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CCBLB will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2022?
On 3 August 1922, CCBLB was officially established as Cámara de Comercio de Bélgica en España. Its first President was Jules d’Hertoghe, General Director of Compañía General de los Ferrocarriles Catalanes (CGFC).
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Transcripts of the 1st general statutory meeting of the Chamber
Before 1922 there had already been several attempts to create a Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain. Preparatory meetings had even been held and draft statutes had been drawn up, but the attempts failed for lack of a real inspiring leader. There were musicians with a lot of will and enthusiasm, there was a marvellous music score, but unfortunately there was no conductor to perform the concert. When the new Belgian Consul General, Charles Bastin, young and ambitious as he was, arrived in Barcelona in the summer of 1921, the idea of creating a Chamber took on new life. In the early months of 1922, during a general assembly of the Société Belge de Bienfaisance, he invited and encouraged his compatriots to found a Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain to promote the commercial and economic relations between both countries. On 17th of June 1922, a provisional committee was set up to prepare the founding of the Chamber, chaired by Jules d’Hertoghe, general director of the Compañía de los Ferrocarriles de Cataluña. Consul General Charles Bastin, the soul and one of the founding fathers of the Chamber, together with Chancellor Max Crener of the Belgian consulate, spared no effort to make the new project a resounding success, which immediately received the high patronage of the Belgian ambassador to Spain, baron de Borchgrave.
In 1924 the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain decided to participate in the fifth edition of the prestigious International Trade Fair in Barcelona, in collaboration with the representatives of the Brussels International Fair. It was the Chamber’s first public activity, as it were its first business card in the world of Spanish commerce. The Chamber installed and decorated a series of pavilions in one of the palaces of the Fair, including an Information Office on industry and tourism in Belgium. Although the Belgian participation was purely documentary and informative to reduce costs, there were also presentations by some agents of Belgian companies, such as the Cristalleries du Val Saint Lambert, Les Tubes de la Meuse, and the commercial establishments of Maurice Hening and Robert Muls, both members of the Chamber. Thanks to the special telephone installation set up by Belgian technicians from the Antwerp Bell Company, who had travelled specially to Barcelona, hundreds of participants gathered in the Plaça de Sant Jaume could listen live to the inaugural speeches of the Fair delivered in Barcelona’s Town Hall on 30th May 1924.
When the Belgian government decided to participate in the International Exhibition in Barcelona in 1929, the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain seized this great opportunity to support the activities of the Belgian pavilion. The Chamber granted a subsidy of 10.000 Belgian francs to Commissioner-General Georges Dallemagne and took care of the publicity and the propaganda of the pavilion: the Chamber produced colour postcards, published a special issue of its quarterly bulletin with a circulation of 3,000 copies, and edited and distributed articles for the Belgian press. All members of the Chamber Committee, chaired by Henri Forthomme, director of S.A. Lloyd Royal Belge in Spain, took part in the Local Committee of the 1929 Exhibition. The remarkable Belgian Pavilion hosted more than 200 Belgian companies, commercial establishments, ministries, banks, official bodies, and of course the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain. At the closing of the Exhibition, Commissioner-General Georges Dallemagne received from Spanish King Alfonso the list of rewards awarded to the Belgian exhibitors, which included the “Gran Premio” to the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain. Well done!
In the quarterly bulletin of March 1923, the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain published for the first time the list of its members. In eight months, from its constitution on 3rd August 1922 to 31st March 1923, the Chamber counted 231 members classified into different categories. The honorary members consisted of the Ambassador and the 23 Consuls of the Belgian diplomatic network in Spain, while the protector members included, amongst others, Belgian and Spanish banks such as Banque de Bruxelles and Banca Marsans, as well as large companies including S. A. John Cockerill, Solvay & Cie, and Lloyd Royal Belge. The Spanish-resident members were mainly industrialists, customs agents, traders, engineers, shipping agents, businessmen, importers and exporters, located in Mediterranean seaport cities such as Barcelona, Valencia and Mallorca. In 1958, the year of the successful Brussels World’s Fair, the Chamber registered 671 members. In December 1960 the number of members reached 712 : an impressive figure that illustrates the importance and necessity of the Chamber’s activities in the flourishing economic relations between Belgium and Spain at the beginning of the Golden Sixties.
One year before signing the long-awaited trade agreement between the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union and Spain, the Belgian Foreign Trade Office decided in 1948 to participate for the first time in the International Trade Fair of Barcelona. The Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain did not hesitate to offer its support and collaboration. In fact, the presence of an official Belgian organisation was an ideal opportunity for the Chamber to establish new contacts and to find new members among the numerous Belgian and Spanish industrialists and traders. The documentation and translation services offered by the Chamber at the information centre of the Belgian Foreign Trade Office were highly appreciated by the organisers and the visitors. On 15th June 1948, for the very first time at the fair, a Belgium National Day was celebrated, a joint initiative of the Belgian Consulate General and the Chamber, which was to be repeated every year until the late 1960s. The great promoter of the Belgium National Day was undoubtedly the highly appreciated president of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain, Oscar Lagasse, who held office from 1935 to 1964.
A key figure in the day-to-day organisation of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain was Miss Alice Chesselet, a Belgian national, who worked for more than 35 years at the Chamber as its secretary, from 1922 until 1958. She was the daughter of Joaquin Chesselet, a merchant from Verviers (Belgium) and vice-consul of Belgium in Barcelona at the beginning of the 20th century. Alice was passionate about music. She received a musical training at the Schola Cantorum in Paris from her teacher, the famous French composer Vincent d’Indy. In Barcelona Alice combined her work at the Chamber of Commerce with her activities as a music teacher. She performed as a singer at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona and gave recitals, concerts and lectures on Belgian and French musicians and composers. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Chamber of Commerce in 1947, Alice Chesselet was awarded the Golden Palms of the Order of the Belgian Crown. And in May 1959, on her retirement, the Belgian Government honoured her with the Palms of the Order of King Leopold II in recognition of her services to the country for more than thirty years. Alice was undoubtedly an extraordinary pillar in the history of the Chamber and was greatly appreciated by both the Belgian community and the citizens (and music lovers) of Barcelona.
Since its foundation in 1922, the head office of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain has always been in Barcelona, initially in the premises of the Belgian Consulate General. Due to the growing number of members of the Chamber distributed in different cities all over Spain, the management committee decided to create a network of delegations. In November 1947, the first delegation of the Chamber was set up in Madrid under the chairmanship of Jean-Pierre Lecocq, General Director of the Sociedad Belga de los Pinares del Paular. A year later, delegations were opened in Bilbao and Brussels, headed respectively by Emile Dubois, Belgian Consul in Bilbao, and the diplomat Charles Bastin, founder of the Chamber in 1922, who at that time enjoyed his retirement in Brussels. In 1964 the Spanish lawyer Vicente Gener began his activities as delegate of the Chamber in Valencia, whereas the Belgian consul Xavier Van den Bogaert did the same in Seville. In 1969 SABENA’s regional directors in Malaga and Palma de Mallorca, Raymond Brunet and François Krygelmans, accepted their appointment to represent the Chamber in the province of Malaga and the Balearic Islands respectively.
On its 25th anniversary, the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain organised a Belgian Week, which took place from 22 to 29 November 1947 at the Chamber’s headquarters in Barcelona. On 23 November 1947, the Spanish-Belgian Congress of importers and exporters was inaugurated, attended by some 150 participants. This meeting was the first forum in Spain after the Second World War to bring together Belgian and Spanish businessmen. Different mixed commissions (among others, metallurgy and machinery, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, food, import and export, textile, and tanning) gathered for a week in Barcelona to exchange ideas on the different import and export problems at that time. The congress participants formulated their conclusions (recommendations, wishes, complaints and suggestions) which were transmitted by telegraph to the heads of the Belgian and Luxembourg governments and to the Spanish Minister of Trade and Industry. The conclusions of this congress had a great impact on the policymakers as they formed the framework for the new Trade Agreement between Belgium and Spain signed on 23 April 1949.
Between 1922 and 1969 the head office of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain was in an office of the Belgian Consulate General in Barcelona, first on calle Aragón 231, afterwards on calle Córsega 304. Due to an increase in the consular staff, the Chamber was invited to abandon the office at the consulate by 1 July 1969. After a few weeks, the president of the Chamber, Camille Defoin, found premises on the 9th floor in the emblematic building of the Banco Rural y Mediterráneo at number 16 on Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona, exactly where it joins the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes. The Belgian Foreign Trade Office granted the Chamber an extraordinary subsidy of 200,000 Belgian francs for the removal, installation and rent (72,000 pesetas per month). In the new office of the Chamber, some products, samples, and brochures of Belgian industry were displayed for advertising purposes. The new head office of the Chamber was officially inaugurated by the Belgian consul general Pol Lenaerts at the beginning of 1970. The Banco Rural y Mediterráneo building was one of the most cosmopolitan spots in Barcelona as on the 13th floor the popular Martini Terrace was installed, a space where all kinds of events were held, from musical performances to presentations or film premieres.
An indispensable ally for the development of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain was undoubtedly the Belgian Foreign Trade Office (Office Belge du Commerce Extérieur), created in 1948, whose main activities were to promote the commercial expansion of Belgium and to intensify the commercial exchanges with foreign countries. The Spanish market proved to be highly attractive for Belgian exports. From the very beginning, the Belgian Foreign Trade Office collaborated intensively with the Chamber in the promotion of Belgian products in Spain, through participation in the Barcelona International Trade Fair, trade missions to Spain with Belgian businessmen and policymakers, conferences and seminars, the publication of information flyers on the Belgian economy, and the organisation of surveys among businessmen with the purpose of improving the Spanish-Belgian trade agreements. In the fifties and sixties, the Chamber received an annual allowance between 20,000 and 100,000 Belgian francs from the Foreign Trade Fund, managed by the Belgian Foreign Trade Office, to support its efforts to promote Belgian trade expansion in Spain.
The first official visit by a Belgian minister to Barcelona since more than 35 years was made by the Minister of Foreign Trade, Michel Toussaint, on 5 and 6 June 1975, coinciding with the celebration of Belgian Day at the International Trade Fair in Barcelona. At the opening ceremony, President Camille Defoin and the Management Committee of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain welcomed the Minister in the Belgian pavilion. In those years the financial situation of the Chamber was dramatic (a deficit of 337,000 pesetas) due to a sharp decrease in income, a high inflation rate and a reduction of subsidies from the Belgian Foreign Trade Office. In his speech at the Belgian pavilion, Camille Defoin took the opportunity to ask Minister Michel Toussaint for a considerable increase in subsidies so that the Chamber could continue to develop its activities. Faced with a very attentive Minister, the president did not mince his words: “We would regret having to dismiss our staff and abandon our premises at the end of September for lack of resources and, by the same token, having to restrict our activities at a time when they are increasingly necessary”. The following year – by Minister Toussaint’s decision himself – the Belgian Foreign Trade Office increased the subsidies of the Belgian Chamber in Barcelona. A great relief for its president Camille Defoin.
Since its creation in 1922, the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain has actively contributed to the promotion of international fairs and exhibitions in Belgium, Luxembourg, and Spain. Already in the first issues of the Chamber’s newsletter we find articles and publicity for the International Exhibitions of Liège and Antwerp in 1930 (on the occasion of the Centenary of the Independence of Belgium), the Universal Exhibition of Brussels in 1935, the International Fairs of Flanders (1948), Brussels, Wallonia, Ghent and Liège (1949), the International Fair of Luxembourg in 1953, and of course the annual International Trade Fair of Barcelona where the Belgian pavilion was already a classic. Every year the Chamber sent a delegate to the Consultation Days at the Brussels International Fair to provide information on Spanish-Belgian trade and offered its documentation and expertise services at the stand of the Federation of Belgian Chambers of Commerce abroad. In the 1960s, the Brussels Fair even organized promotional trips from Barcelona to Brussels in collaboration with the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain and SABENA to visit the fair and sightseeing in Belgium. The concrete result of the Chamber’s active presence at these fairs was the recruitment of several new Belgian members who relied on the Chamber’s services to develop their business activities in Spain.
In its 100 years of history, the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain has invited distinguished Belgian and Spanish guest speakers to discuss current economic and financial issues. On the eve of the creation of the European Monetary Cooperation Fund in 1973, the Chamber invited His Excellency Baron André Vlerick, Belgian Minister of Finance, to give a lecture at the Palacio Lonja de Mar in Barcelona on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain. The President of the Chamber, Camille Defoin, and the Belgian Consul General, Pol Lenaerts, received the Minister and his wife at Barcelona airport on 10 November 1972. Minister André Vlerick gave a masterly lecture on monetary equilibrium in Europe and in the world, focusing his lecture on the actions taken within the European Economic Community to implement a European Reserve Fund and a European Monetary Cooperation Fund. Belgium – according to Minister Vlerick in 1972 – “wants to participate actively in the rapid and effective construction of a true economic and monetary union of the European Community characterised by the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital”. Today the Minister would be delighted to see the euro is the common currency in 19 EU countries.
An almost legendary figure of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain was the Belgian railway engineer Oscar Lagasse (1890-1988), who was its president from 1934 to 1964. For three decades he chaired the Management Committee and turned the Chamber into an indispensable institution in the commercial relations between Belgium and Spain. Oscar Lagasse was the son of the director of a small railway company in Belgium. After studying in various European countries, he embraced a military career, fought in the First World War, was taken prisoner, was released, laid down his arms and in 1920 came to Barcelona. He married Marie Thérèse (Marita) Pirard, the eldest daughter of Albert Pirard, the Belgian consul in Barcelona, and in 1921 he began working for the Compañía General de Ferrocarriles Catalanes, directed by the Belgian engineer Jules D’Hertoghe, who at that time was president of the Chamber. Subsequently, in 1927, he was promoted to General Manager of the company, continuing the work of Jules D’Hertoghe and from 1931 he combined the position of General Manager with that of member of the Board of Directors until 1954. The young Oscar Lagasse joined the Belgian Chamber in 1923, where he was elected treasurer. In 1934 the then president of the Chamber, Léon Schul, was forced to resign due to his new professional obligations in Vigo. The General Assembly appointed Oscar Lagasse as the new president of the Chamber. His work during thirty years was quite impressive and the Belgian Government granted him the title of Officer in the Order of the Belgian Crown to reward his work in the promotion of commercial relations between Belgium and Spain. In 1964 the Chamber made him honorary president for life.
At a time when neither the internet nor social media existed, the only way to echo the activities of the Chamber of Commerce was through a newsletter. The first edition of the Chamber’s monthly newsletter was published a few months after its foundation, on 15 January 1923. The content focused on some major current economic issues such as the Spanish customs regime, imports from Belgium, the Spanish steel market, and the economic situation in Belgium. Although most of the articles were published in French, the bulletin also featured reports and summaries in Spanish and occasionally in Dutch. Of course, advertising in the bulletins was an important source of income for the Chamber. An indispensable chapter was the commercial offers and requests from Belgian companies wishing to trade with Spain. Throughout its history, the Chamber has published hundreds of bulletins, newsletters, press releases and economic reports, with different periodicity and in various formats. In the 1960s, the Chamber’s delegation in Belgium had its own bulletin addressed to Belgian members, chambers of commerce in Belgium, banks, and economic entities.
On 10 January 1969, the solemn inauguration of the Balearic delegation of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain was celebrated, presided over by the Belgian Ambassador, Baron Poswick, accompanied by the Consul General of Belgium in Barcelona, Pol Lenaerts, and the president of the Chamber, Camille Defoin. The ceremony was a social and economic event in Palma de Mallorca and was widely reported in the local press. Among the many authorities who took part was the honorary president of the International Chamber of Commerce, Edmond Giscard d’Estaing, father of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, former president of the French Republic. The Belgian delegation was the first foreign Chamber of Commerce delegation to be established in Mallorca. The president of the new delegation was Antonio Tarragó, director of the legendary Hotel Mediterráneo in Palma de Mallorca, where the Chamber’s delegation had its office. For industry, commerce and agriculture in the Balearic Islands, the presence of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain was a great opportunity to establish direct relations with the economic capital of Europe, which was the seat of the Common Market. The objectives of the Delegation in Palma were above all to provide information on economic matters, to study the possibilities of exporting and importing and to advise in the real estate sector.
Thanks to the many contacts established during the Spanish-Belgian congress of importers and exporters organised by the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain in Barcelona in 1947, the Board of Directors decided to create a delegation of the Chamber in Belgium, with the main objective of establishing contacts with the official institutions in Belgium and with the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Brussels. In May 1948, the delegation was set up under the honorary presidency of Charles Bastin, former Belgian Consul General in Barcelona and co-founder of the Chamber, and the effective presidency of Henri Min, delegate of the Association Belge des Négociants Importateurs et Exportateurs. Pierre Mertens, delegate of the S.A. Photo-Produits Gevaert, was in charge of the secretariat, which had at its disposal an annual budget of 1.000 Belgian francs to cover administrative expenses. At the end of 1948, the number of members of the Chamber in Belgium reached 98, of which 16 were contributed by the Brussels delegation. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Delegation participated actively in the Brussels Trade Fair, published monthly bulletins which were highly appreciated, and maintained close relations with the Federation of Belgian Chambers of Commerce Abroad. The Delegation was above all an important player and observer in the negotiations for future bilateral trade treaties between Belgium and Spain.
Between 1922 and 1926 Jules (Julio) d’Hertoghe directed the Chamber as its first President. He was born in Dendermonde (Belgium) and studied at the Ecole Supérieure in Ghent, where he obtained a degree in engineering in 1902. In 1913 he moved to Italy as director of the Société Anonyme Tramways de Lombardie et Romagnes, a Belgian company, which built the interurban steam tramway line connecting Forlì with Ravenna. In 1917 Jules d’Hertoghe travelled from Italy to Spain where he began working as chief engineer inspector for the railway company in Manresa. With the founding of the Belgian-owned Compañía General de Ferrocarriles Catalanes in 1919, Jules d’Hertoghe was appointed its first general director. He oversaw one of the most important railway projects in Catalonia, such as the connections with the port of Barcelona and the construction of a new railway network: he modernised the existing lines, acquired a fleet of Belgian-made steam and electric locomotives, passenger coaches and hundreds of wagons. In August 1922 Jules d’Hertoghe was elected president of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain. He successfully led the first decisive steps of the Chamber’s Management Committee until April 1926, when he returned to Belgium for professional reasons. The Committee appointed him honorary president of the Chamber
On 13 September 1930, Prince Leopold inaugurated in Brussels the first congress of the Belgian Chambers of Commerce Abroad, organised by the Belgian Chambre Syndicale de l’Exportation, on the occasion of the Antwerp Universal Exhibition and the Liège International Exhibition. Twenty-three chambers took part in the congress (out of a total of 33), including the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain. The Chamber’s delegates were Georges Storie (former secretary of the Chamber), who was a member of the Executive Committee of the congress, and consul Henri Crener (deputy delegate). At this assembly, it was decided to create a Union of Belgian Chambers of Commerce Abroad. At the same time, the congressmen expressed their wish that the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs should appoint 500 foreign trade advisers to support the Chambers and the Belgian diplomatic delegations abroad. From the very start, the Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Spain joined the new Union created in 1930. Since then, the Chamber has always been a loyal member of today’s Federation of Belgian Luxembourg Chambers of Commerce Abroad, preserving the goals and ideas of international cooperation as set out in the first congress in 1930. In January 2022, the Chamber has been awarded the Certificate of Accreditation by the Federation.
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