Belgian king’s discovery of India begins Monday


New Delhi : India and Belgium, a founding member of the EU and a hub of the global diamond trade, are set to intensify their political and economic ties during King Albert II’s 10-day state visit that begins Monday.

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The Belgian monarch will be accompanied by Queen Paola, Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht and a delegation of top business leaders and academics, the external affairs ministry announced Saturday.

He kicks off his visit with a trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra before beginning official discussions with Indian leaders the next day. He will hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday on a wide range of bilateral and regional issues, including the intensification of economic ties.

He will also meet ruling United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee. President Pratibha Patil will host a state dinner for the Belgian monarch and queen Nov 4.

The Belgian monarch, officially called King of the Belgians, will also visit Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and Mammalapurum during his stay in India.

It will be a voyage of discovery of India for the Belgian sovereigns as they meet a wide cross-section of Indian society, including businessmen, politicians, academics and intellectuals across different cities in India.

Belgium is a founding member of the 27-member European Union and hosts the EU headquarters and many other international organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

A slew of commercial agreements between Belgian and Indian companies will be signed during the visit, the Belgian embassy said in a separate statement.

The Belgian king will make a pitch for attracting Indian investment at a business meeting organized by the apex chambers of commerce and industry in New Delhi Tuesday.

Belgium is the third largest trade partner of India in the EU with annual bilateral trade turnover exceeding $8.6 billion with diamonds, gems and jewellery accounting for a sizable portion of the two-way trade.

Academic links between Belgium and India will also be broadened through the signing of strategic MoUs between academic authorities from both countries – an important step that will intensify people-to-people relations between the two countries.