HRH Princess Astrid of Belgium, representing HM King Philippe I of Belgium, on her royal duties, developing trade relations between Oman and Belgium, and regional integration.
Muscat is a city well known for its beauty and elegance; it is always a wonderful feeling to be in Oman. I feel connected to this country and its people. The Omani people and authorities have always warmly welcomed Belgian delegations. This may explain why the Sultanate of Oman is known in Belgium as a most hospitable and generous country, and a nice place to be.
As the sister of the King, His Majesty King Philippe, and as his representative, I am proud to have led the largest Belgian economic mission ever to the Sultanate of Oman. I am grateful to my brother to have asked me to preside over this mission. I am also very happy to have had the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders at my side during the entire visit.
After this fruitful mission, I came to realize that Oman and Belgium, perhaps surprisingly, have a lot in common. Both our countries, or should I say, both our kingdoms, have been blessed with an ideal geographical location at the crossroads of trading routes and with access to the sea. And as we all know, a coastline is like a window on the world. This explains why trading and doing business beyond our borders are part of our national DNA. Both our countries can also be proud of their traditions and cultural heritage. Take for example castles and forts: they are striking landmarks in many places in the Sultanate of Oman, as is the case in Belgium, too. This heritage is attracting tourists from all over the world.
Both the countries are also active players in regional organizations, and in the case of Oman it is the GCC, and in our case it is the EU. The recent decision by our active foreign ministers to initiate regular political consultations between our governments will also bring Belgium and Oman closer together; there is no doubt about that. But there is even more to report in terms of similarities and proximity between Oman and Belgium: the Omani and Belgian people seem to both have a passion for cycling.
Our bilateral trade has increased substantially in recent years. Today, here in Muscat, literally hundreds of contacts and meetings have been taking place between Belgian and Omani companies and businesses. The first echoes of these fruitful encounters are very promising. They confirm that we were right to come here and to show our confidence in Oman as a trustworthy trading partner and as a safe investment hub.
During the visit to the Sultanate, we wanted to show our readiness to contribute to the economic development of Oman while, at the same time, we wanted to invite the Omani business community to come to Belgium. We visited Oman with the best the Belgian business community has on offer in key sectors as diverse as energy, energy efficiency, healthcare, specialized dredging and marine work, pharmaceuticals, and water management.
That so many SMEs have decided to come with us is also a very promising development. Let me give you one example of what we can achieve in our bilateral relations: our delegation has visited the new port of Duqm. We are proud that the ports of Duqm and Antwerp are developing a new, strong, and long-term strategic partnership for the promotion of this important harbor, another of Oman's anchors to the outside world.
I would not like to conclude this feature without paying a special tribute to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Among his main achievements I would like to highlight the scores of educational establishments for boys and girls, from nursery level to university degrees, the excellent health service, and the modern road network and public infrastructure, all of which contributed to making the Sultanate of Oman what it is today, and all of which brought more well-being and prosperity to the Omani people.