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Belgium sees plenty of promise in Indian economy

Indian business may have their reasons to despair about the state of the Indian economy, but the view from the 'capital of Europe' is decidedly different.Princess Astrid , the sister of present King Philippe, a strong supporter of India, is leading a large 350-strong business delegation to India next month, as Belgium remains upbeat about the potential and prospects of the Indian economy, say Indian officials.

It will be the second such big business delegation to India from Belgium - the headquarters of the 28-member European Commission and standing strategically at the crossroad of Western Europe - in three years.

Philippe was scheduled to lead this delegation as well before his father, King Albert II, who led three business delegations since 1995, abdicated in July due to ill-health. In 2008, the then king had gone on a 12-day visit to India and there are very few other countries outside Europe that he cared to visit during his decade-long reign.

"So far, 350 Belgian companies have already registered for the visit and more might come, " said P S Raghavan, special secretary, in India's external affairs ministry, to journalists after the conclusion of delegation-level talks on the first working day of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee's three-day visit to Belgium.

These companies are seeking collaborations in the fields of infrastructure, including shipping, logistics, aviation, IT and green technology and chemicals, among other things.

That India is seen as "special" by the Belgian government, which is going out of its way to woo India, was seen in the way the royal couple, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, broke protocol to come to the airport to receive Mukherjee when he arrived here Tuesday evening. As the Indian president stepped down from his Air India One, royalty was there on the tarmac to receive him - a very unusual gesture, say locals.

Belgium has been singularly helpful in "creating an exception for India" as it sought to enter into international cooperation in the area of civil nuclear energy, noted Mukherjee Wednesday, as he hoped "Belgium will continue its constructive approach and will support us in our efforts to become a full member of four arms control regimes"

Belgium has been one of the earliest supporters of India's candidature into the UN Security Council as and when it is expanded.

Collaboration, including transfer of technology, has been further suggested in the area of civil nuclear cooperation in which Belgium has been a major supporter of India.

Among other areas of potential collaboration that came up during "extremely fruitful" talks here, were cooperation in upgrading railway infrastructure. Three stations - in Mumbai (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus), Nagpur and Dehradun - will soon be taken up on a pilot basis , Indian Ambassador Dinkar Khullar said.

The president talked about collaboration in upgrading port infrastructure as well, and particularly talked about Kolkata port, a riverine port with sea access that has similarities with Antwerp port that is often seen as a gateway to Europe. Already collaborations are there between Antwerp port authorities and those of Mumbai and Chennai in the areas of training and modernisation.