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Verhofstadt on US trade mission

Published on 13/01/2006

13 January 2006

BRUSSELS – Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt aims to repair frayed ties with US President George Bush during a lightning visit to the White House next week.

Verhofstadt will spend just 30 minutes with the President and present him with a box of Belgian chocolates in a bid to normalise relations still strained from the 2003 US intervention in Iraq.

While both sides insist relations are still strong, Belgium’s influence on the Administration has fallen since the Iraq war, when it was among the most vocal opponents of the US action. Verhofstadt aggravated his standing when he organised a mini-summit on European defence the same year – the so-called Chocolate Summit – together with the other opponents of the war, France and Germany.

But Verhofstadt is also a pragmatist who understands that Belgium enjoys close trade and investment links with the US: his trip also aimed at drumming up business for Belgian firms. Verhofstadt will be accompanied by Finance Minister Didier Reynders, Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, and State Secretary for Administrative Reform Vincent Van Quickenborne.

His trip comes as Belgium’s employers have pleaded for a more favourable business climate. The FEB/VBO, Belgium’s employer federation, has launched a new version of its Strategy 2010, calling for a cut in social security charges to a maximum of 20% of underlying remuneration, cutting corporate tax to 15%, increasing work flexibility.

Entitled ‘Growth and jobs: with no taboos!’, the FEB/VBO’s document argues for more room for growth and economic innovation. “The Belgian economy has the potential to overcome the challenges posed by globalisation and ageing population. But the economy faces deeply ingrained structural handicaps that put the future into question,” said FEB/VBO Director Rudi Thomaes.

“We need to get rid of a number of taboos, holy cows and bad habits,” said Thomaes, presenting the Strategy 2010.

[Copyright Expatica News 2006]

Subject: Belgian news