Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC)

BCECC Newsletter: Introducing Mr. René Branders

In this Newsletter, we will introduce Mr. René Branders, since many years actively engaged in China-Belgium cooperation and export business with China. With an education in chemical engineering, Mr. Branders holds many important positions in the Belgian industrial ecosystem. He is the CEO of FIB Belgium, a family-owned global player in the field of industrial furnaces for the steel industry. Additionally, he is the President of the Belgian Chambers of Commerce, President of the Board of the Belgian federation of technology companies AGORIA and he also holds several other mandates in Belgian companies and federations.

With his international experience, Mr. Branders knows that it is important to be committed, to have a global view on finding solutions and how to bring multi-cultural views to a common and successful target. He believes in the spirit of entrepreneurship and his commitment in different associations reflects that he prefers actions to promises. Thanks to his negotiation skills and the strong dimension of intercultural dialogue, he understands the advantages of international business, but of course also its obstacles and challenges.

His first visit to China was in 1987. In that period, China was already opening up to the world and Belgium was amongst the first countries which accompanied China along this process. Nevertheless, his export business to China only started later. In 2001, there was a crisis in Europe, and Mr. Branders decided to visit China again. In the years 2000, he reinforced and orchestrated FIB’s major export development. In 2002 and 2003, Mr. Branders traveled to China more than ten times per year. Although everybody told him that it would be a waste of time, he persevered, which resulted in a lot of business for his company. It was an important starting point in his relations with Chinese people and companies.

Over the years, Mr. Branders has built a relationship with Chinese companies based on mutual respect that enables him to address the many different facets of his relations and to speak frankly to each other when opinions differ. He has always found it very important to have a balanced relationship with China, based on reciprocity.

Mr. Branders has also been a privileged witness of the development of the protection of intellectual properties in China. “My experiences with China are positive, although we also had to face questions related to IP protection. The way of handling these issues is not easy. Even if you have your trademark or IP protected, you still need a level of control in China. If you are protected and well-organized today, it is still possible that a Chinese company is purchasing some parts and copying it. So, it is all about keeping control.”

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, his last visit to China was in December 2019, just before Covid started. In China, the way in which the crisis has been handled economically seemed to be the right way, at least at the beginning. It has not always been easy in the manufacturing industry, but by following the measures closely, China came out quite safely. Only in the last few months, with big cities as Beijing and Shanghai and a lot of other regions in lockdown, doing business with China became very difficult. Anyway, since the beginning of June and after the gradual re-opening, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic for the following months.

As the President of Agoria, the technology federation of Belgium, Mr. Branders has been a privileged witness of China’s technological development. “Long time ago, China didn’t have the technology to really make the transition thoroughly. In those days, in China, the main focus lay on cheap production, and competition was very high. Nowadays, Chinese companies have improved the level of their technology, and are more and more focusing on quality.”

Mr. Branders is optimistic about the vision of the government and the attitude of the people working in those sectors: “This is a positive development, but for exporting companies from Belgium it can also be a threat. Therefore, keeping an open mind for Belgian companies is the key. If you believe everything that is written in newspapers, the disconnection with China will get worse. Combined knowledge from Chinese and European companies should be there and could give added value to both of them. The purpose is to achieve a balanced partnership, to have harmony, to have a long-term cooperation.”

It is clear that doing business in China will remain a challenge for many Belgian companies, also for FIB Belgium. When asked about his expectations for the future, Mr. Branders replied: ‘’China’s importance will continue to grow in the world’s economic order. It means that companies cannot ignore China. China is an inspiring society, adapting itself rapidly to new challenges. It is not easy to do business in China, but if Belgian companies are well-prepared and take into account the specificities of the Chinese market, you can be very successful. I would say FIB Belgium is a very good example of it.’’

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