Florence Vanholsbeeck
Economic and Trade Commissioner
Walloon Agency for Exports and Foreign Investment (AWEx)
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Expert Contributor

AWEx Mexico Strives for Growth and Development

By Florence Vanholsbeeck | Wed, 05/27/2020 - 09:44

The promotion of Walloon exports to Mexico and the support of Mexican investments in Wallonia are the main roles of the Wallonia Export and Investment Agency (AWEx) in Mexico, led by Florence Vanholsbeeck, Economic and Trade Commissioner. 

Amid by the rush caused by the new coronavirus, our office is being challenged to adapt to a rapidly changing environment, almost entirely digital, seeking unprecedented solutions at extraordinary times. 

The new conditions mark a clear before and after in the economy, a milestone in the use of technological tools and working habits. Many newspapers stopped their printed production, switching almost entirely to their virtual editions. Our weekly meetings are now held on platforms such as Zoom, Safe Meeting or WhatsApp; we swapped our quick comments in the breakroom for the monitoring of projects on Tuzzit. 

We have also witnessed how various companies have been transforming their lines of production to assist in this contingency: A group of aeronautic engineers from Liège, coming from Safran Aeroboosters; Sonaca and FN Herstal have helped in the fabrication of respirators and other medical spare parts using 3D printers; or the Thuin-based distillery Biercée, which started the production of alcohol to supply hospitals. 

Since the beginning of the infection in Europe, various Walloon emerging companies have risen up and proactively offered solutions to face the crisis: Andaman7 has developed an application to facilitate access to medical records from one’s smartphone; BeWell has built up a platform to speed up treatments and provide medical consultation through video conference; Opal Solutions is offering a platform to efficiently manage hospital resources. As a sign of solidarity during the crisis, these tools have been temporarily made available without any cost, and so are several services from more than 50 Belgian startups promoted through Start-up Vie. 

In Mexico, Grupo Modelo started using the alcohol left from the distillation of Corona Cero to produce hydroalcoholic gel. The company also transferred part of its operations to Wallonia, to keep on with the production of the emblematic Corona beer in one of its parent company’s factories, AB-InBEv. Additionally, various small and medium Mexican firms have transformed their business during the crisis, such as Le Caméléon, La Belga or Yeccan, all of which are members of our exclusive program: Wallonia.be Brand Ambassadors, seeking  to promote the collaboration between Mexican and Belgian professionals and entrepreneurs, with a personal or professional link to Wallonia. 

The global interdependence, characterized by a changing market, makes us consider new strategies. In the next few months, we might see more entrepreneurs regularly adopting home working habits after the quarantine, in order to reduce their fixed costs and keep up with a high employment satisfaction. We may also witness companies entering new market niches, having modified their production lines and provided free services during the crisis. The new context brought up by the coronavirus has also highlighted the importance of digital platforms, which have made it possible to keep economic and educational operations active during the quarantine. For instance, the Walloon company Altissia has recently signed a cooperation agreement with the government of Nuevo Leon (INJUVE), allowing local youths to carry on with their foreign language classes online through the same platform used by European students on their Erasmus program. 

The wave of changes has impacted even the strongest economies; for the first time, the EU has been forced to temporarily call off the Pact for Stability and Growth in the hope of mitigating the economic consequences brought by Covid-19. Member States will be allowed to widen their fiscal deficit and public debt above the limits of 3 percent and 60 percent of GDP, respectively. These measures respond to the strategies forced upon the governments to reactivate their economies: expansion of credits, bonds and swaps, taxes reductions and remissions, as well as flexibility in the payment of rents and services. One could even consider unusual proposals such as that of the billionaire mogul George Soros, who calls for the issuance of perpetual bonds in the European Union to raise nearly 11 trillion euros for an upturn in the economy.

The Walloon government has formed an Extraordinary Fund for Solidarity of €350 million (US$ 383.32), €233 million (US$ 255.18) of which will be distributed to companies and independent business owners. Moreover, a series of exceptional measures have been put in place to support exports and investments through SOFINEX, the main partner of Walloon companies during their internationalization process. Such provisions will enable banks to award additional guarantees to credits, regardless of their size, approved in favor of companies impacted by COVID-19. 

The firms benefiting from loans granted by SOFINEX will automatically receive a 3-month extension for the payment of principal and interests. This measure will be in force from March 31st of this year until the end of the loan, without additional charges. 


On its official website, AWEx offers a list of various European, federal and regional supports for companies. The site also provides information regarding the progress of the epidemic in Belgium, recommendations from the authorities concerning the new working environment, health, and trips abroad. The Geographic Services offered by the Agency makes companies aware of business opportunities abroad as well as of the initiatives and measures related to the organization of trade fairs taking place in 2020; the International Funding Services provide precise information concerning funding possibilities; the Regional Information and Support of Entrepreneurs Service, called 1890, gives extensive information regarding the impact of the coronavirus on the Walloon economy as well as all the supporting measures that have been implemented. 

Moreover, the Liège Airport has played an important role in the distribution of medical supplies in all Europe, thanks to its privileged location. In fact, WHO recently appointed the airport as the European hub for the distribution of key medical supplies in the quest against this crisis.  

Despite the serious economic shock we are undergoing, AWEx is striving to adapt to this new scenario by offering its investors as much institutional support as required. The interdependence of the global economy leads us to seek creative approaches to unprecedented events, for which collaboration seems to be our most powerful weapon. New needs are being created and business opportunities will sprout; we shall thus keep on fostering the economic cooperation between Wallonia and Mexico. 

 

In case you want to contact AWEx, we kindly ask you to use the official email: mexico@awex-wallonia.com

Photo by:   Florence Vanholsbeeck