The Republic of the Congo: a first mission...a success!
A Belgian delegation of 60 companies travelled to Africa to visit the Republic of the Congo from 4 to 11 October. This was a ground-breaking mission in many respects, but it was particularly full of potential for our Brussels-based companies, regardless of their area of business…Read below!
Agriculture, transport, construction, healthcare, logistics, energy: the business opportunities in the Congo are as numerous as they are varied. Yet, diversification is one of the greatest challenges for the Congolese economy, which relies almost entirely on its petroleum profits and on timber exploitation. Can the Belgian/Brussels offering meet Congolese needs?
Joint interview with Carole Moné, Area Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa at hub.brussels and Jérôme Roux, Economic and Commercial Attaché representing the Brussels government in the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Tri-region mission, presidential aura: what made this mission ground-breaking?
J.R.: The mission was ground-breaking in that it was the Brussels Region’s first mission to the Republic of the Congo. This was in part due to the fact that I was only assigned to the Republic of the Congo in 2017. The mission’s stakes were high, since the Republic of the Congo is a complex country, both economically and historically. Due the ex-colony’s strong ties with France, Belgium hadn’t truly been given consideration yet. This first mission was very symbolic, since it brought our three regions together for the first time.
C.M.: …And it paid off. The delegation was welcomed in person by the head of state! This departure from protocol demonstrates the value the country places on Belgian expertise and the importance of such a mission. Every company in the delegation was able to personally meet President Sassou-Nguesso and his ministers – this is unprecedented in Africa!
B2B meetings, contracts, consortia: what are the results so far?
C.M.: The companies are very pleased; they were all able to meet the objectives they had set themselves. Thanks to the local networking orchestrated by our ambassador, Mr Frédéric Meurice and by the Congolese Ambassador in Brussels, Mr Raphaël Mokoko, 500 B2B meetings were held between Belgian and Congolese companies in Pointe-Noire and nearly 400 were held in Brazzaville. Moreover, some businesses found prospects within the delegation itself and connected with other Belgian businesses to form a consortium on the spot.
J.R.: From the Congolese perspective, it was a true revelation. Thanks to the mission, the country, whose only exposure to Europe has been the port of Le Havre, was offered access to the Port of Antwerp, the fourth largest in the world! This opens up an untold number of possibilities…
Belgian expertise: What assets can Brussels companies provide to a country such as the Republic of the Congo?
C.M.: Belgian companies can offer a wide range of skills. In addition, they operate in French, but without being the “big neighbour”, which gives them an advantage compared with other countries from the old continent. Lastly, Belgium’s unique expertise has provided it with an excellent international reputation.
J.R.: Belgium is proud to be home to two of the best river dredging companies in the world: Dredging International (DEME) and Jan De Nul, two Flemish companies with excellent reputations. The Congo River, which could be a source of wealth for the Republic of the Congo and the DRC, is currently unnavigable and its riverbanks are almost completely undeveloped. Belgium, and therefore Brussels, could serve as a bridge between the two countries, both literally and figuratively…
Agriculture, transport, energy: a multi-sector mission for multiple opportunities?
C.M.: The continent is overflowing with unexplored opportunities. We decided to open the mission up to any sector that could see potential in Africa. This decision, in turn, explains why we organised a tri-region mission: in order to provide a super-diversified offering and the range of skills that would be most likely to match Congolese needs.
J.R.: The unfortunate thing for the Congo is that the country subsists almost entirely on imports, of both goods and services. The goal was to highlight the Congo’s potential by illustrating what could be implemented in terms of agribusiness, human resources and inland waterway development.
Business set-up assistance, special economic zones, subsidies: what are the opportunities and economic aids being offered to our companies?
J.R.: The two main areas of economic activity in the Congo are oil and timber. It is therefore crucial that the country diversify its economy into promising sectors, such as those proposed by our Belgian companies.
C.M.: The Chamber of Commerce in Brazzaville has implemented a system to facilitate the setting up of foreign businesses in the country. It includes, in particular, a system for creating a business in under 24 hours and special economic zones where set-up is facilitated in several ways: tax exemptions, subsidies, etc. The European Union also subsidises the country’s diversification efforts.
Any tips for companies seeking to export to this country?
C.M.: The opportunities are there for those who know where to look. You have to go off the beaten path. In this respect, an organisation like hub.brussels is worth its weight in gold!
J.R.: The best advice is to go there in person to build more personal contacts and immerse yourself in the country’s culture and economic environment. And, of course, to contact me!
Are you considering setting up a business in the Republic of the Congo? Contact Caroline and Jérôme!
Carole Moné is Area Manager bij hub.brussels sinds 2013. Ze begon als verantwoordelijke voor de regio MENA-UK-Turkije. Sinds 2014 zet ze zich in voor missies op de Afrikaanse markt en vandaag de dag dekt ze het volledige Sub-Saharaanse Afrika.
Jérôme Roux is Economische en Handelsattaché bij hub.brussels sinds 2004. Hij begon als de contactpersoon van de drie gewesten en het Groothertogdom Luxemburg voor de Democratisch Republiek Congo. In 2017 is zijn werkgebied uitgebreid met de Republiek Congo.