Belgium, the pharma gateway to Europe

Written by
Alyssa Lefever
Sisu - Alyssa Lefever
  • Article
  • Pharmaceutical Affairs
  • 04 min. reading

 ‘Belgium, the Pharma Gateway to Europe’ was this year’s theme of the Dialogue, the annual event of the Belgian innovative pharma federation. “The excellent export figures - 41 Bn euros in 2016 - allow us to even say that Belgium is “the Pharma Gateway to the world”, Catherine Rutten, CEO at, said in her opening speech.

“Belgium has turned the past years into a pivotal distribution center for pharmaceuticals, thanks to excellent logistics partners, impressive road, airport and seaport infrastructure and its ideal geographical location. It is important to keep on investing in pharma and logistics, two vital sectors for our economy."

Catherine Rutten
CEO at

Kris Peeters, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Employment, Economy and Consumer Affairs, in charge of Foreign Trade, added: “There are few places in the world that can boast both a world class pharmaceutical industry and a well-developed logistical network. Belgium is one of those places.”

Impressive pharma and logistics footprint
The Dialogue discussions and presentations showed the continuous efforts by all actors involved - pharma, logistics partners and authorities - to stay at the edge of innovation.

Tom Van Wesemael (Deloitte Belgium) set the scene by unfolding the Belgian pharma and logistics footprint. While Belgium has 32 pharmaceutical production sites on its territory, it also has 10 global or European pharma distribution centers, as well as more than 100 logistic support providers.

The pharma sector generates a direct employment of 35,250 employees working for 200 pharma companies located in Belgium. Furthermore, each job in pharma leads to approximately 4.6 indirect jobs in other sectors such as logistics, consultancy, catering, IT ... For example, Brucargo employs 5,000 people and no less than 10% is for pharma transportation.

Transitioning to a hyper connected digital supply network
Stephen Laaper (Deloitte) shared the newest thinking on the supply chain of medicines, transitioning into a digital and connected supply network. He outlined how the world today is in the middle of a digital revolution based on three rising pillars: computer power, data storage and bandwidth.

Within his position as global leader, Danny Hendrikse (Pfizer) pointed at the digital opportunities that lie in front of us, in order to track and trace medicines at all time.

Investments in high quality air, sea and road distribution of medicines
The panel discussion focused on the strengths of Belgium having a multimodal approach: the smart use of trucks, maritime and air-transport to get high values goods to even the most remote areas on the globe. Manuella Wilts (J&J) described why her company has set up its new European distribution center in La Louvière. Selection criteria for the location ranged from skilled labour forces, good infrastructure and access to transport links, to location and proximity to important markets.

Several major investments in infrastructure have been in Belgium made over the past few years. Pascale Delcomminette (AWEX) highlighted the benefits of these investments for our economy: health care related products are Wallonia’s number one export category, representing 25 percent of its global export.

Piet Demunter (Brussels Airport Company) confirmed the importance of pharma as a strategic activity for the airport. Over the past 3 years, they have invested heavily in innovative systems – for example the cool dollies for tarmac transportation – but also in high-tech IT solutions to further improve pharma distribution around the world. Both the Brussels and Liège airports are now enjoying the CEIV Pharma quality label - granted by IATA, the International Air Transport Association - for the transport of medicines.

Dirk Lannoo (Katoen Natie) emphasized the growing interest of pharma companies in sea transport as new technological innovations have resulted in a very reliable and strict follow-up of the temperature chain of the reefer containers.

Medicines being very sensitive products to transport, the challenges and strict quality and safety requirements were also a topic of discussion. In this matter, Gert Bervoets (H.Essers) stressed the importance of safety in truck transportation. The company combines technology on the trailer-trucks with a complex IT system behind it to ensure the road distribution of medicines in the best conditions.

Collaboration for innovation
“Belgium is the pharma gateway to Europe, and even to the world. Today’s challenge is to maintain this leading position”, Sonja Willems (Janssen) concluded. “Seeing the impressive footprint of pharma and logistics in Belgium, and their common passion for innovation, is a reason more for both sectors to thrive together going forward.”