7 months ago

Diplomatic World_nummer 56.


FREDDY OPSOMER - A BELGIAN ENTREPRENEUR IN LITHUANIA CHINA’S SILK ROAD ENTREPRENEUR Freddy Opsomer is an international entrepreneur living in Antwerp who was intensively involved in the redevelopment of the Lithuanian economy after the re-independence of that country in 1990. As the Chairman of the Free Economic Zone of Kaunas he was able to organise a strong local management team for the development of a 500 ha greenfield that was located in central Lithuania: a tri-modal site adjacent to an international airport, nearby a new European logistic railway hub, where the Russian 1.520 mm broad railway gauge meets the new Trans European network corridor Rail Baltica. Rail Baltica aims to integrate the 3 Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania via Poland with the European 1.435 mm railway network. It is a supranational project of great economic and political importance for these countries and for the EU. In this new period of re-independence of Lithuania Freddy Opsomer took also attention for issues of social corporate responsibility and he founded the Sugihara Diplomats for Life Foundation and the museum — in memory of the Japanese diplomat Sugihara who saved the lives of more than 6.000 people from the Nazi death camps. The saved people, mostly Jewish, could receive a special transit visa issued by the Japanese diplomat. Doing so, he risked his life and career as his country had in 1940, together with fascist Italy, signed the Tripartite agreement with Nazi Germany. The Japanese Schindler is now rehabilitated in Japan and is honoured amongst the Righteous among the Nations in Israel. Kaunas Free Zone attracted so far 31 local and international companies who invested 489 M euro and created 3.450 jobs. The free zone has also a special IT and mega data centre development zone nearby the 900MW Kruonis Hydro Pumped Storage Power Plant. Here more than 100 MW of power load is available and the site is at the crossroads of diverse European dark fiber paths. In 2017 two large German companies in the automobile sector decided to establish a manufacturing base in the Kaunas Free Economic Zone. The multinational, family owned German company Hella with a sales volume of 6,6 Bn euro in 2016- 2017 and 38.000 employees producing lighting and electronic components for all car brands. The company will invest 30 M euro in Kaunas in a first phase of three and employ 250 skilled workers for the production of sensors, actuators and control modules for the automotive industry. 90

Freddy Opsomer signs with Mr Xu Yongjun - General Manager of China Merchants Logistics – between the 2 signatories : Mr Li Jianhong – Chairman of the China Merchants Group / in the back Prime Minister Butkevicius from Lithuania and Ministers of Economy and Transport) Another German group also decided to choose the Kaunas Free Economic Zone: Continental. Continental invests 95 M euro and will create 1.000 jobs in Lithuania, making this the largest green field investment project in Lithuanian history. Continental will produce in the new factory door and seat control units, gateways, intelligent glass control units, radar sensors for adaptive cruise control and emergency braking assistance systems. One of the first companies that came into the Free Economic Zone was the company Elinta — a spin-off from the Kaunas University of technology — who is famous in laser technologies but also very active in electro-vehicles and electricity charger networks. Freddy Opsomer is convinced that this brings Lithuania and Kaunas FEZ in a real position to become an e-car and e-mobility cluster in Northern Europe. According to him these companies can under special regime of shared production under custom supervision reach two important consumer markets: the EU with 500 million people and the CIS (now Eurasia market) with 180 million people. Freddy Opsomer has only at a distance of 280 km discovered the city of Minsk, capital of Belarus, a vibrant city with nearly 2 million inhabitants. Here the Government of China is actually developing the Great Stone park, located near the Minsk international airport. It is the largest industrial park outside China. It has a solid Chinese partnership with the China Merchants Group and Sinomach as reference shareholders. Freddy Opsomer is finalising negotiations with the Belarus government and the Chinese side to integrate a European hub in this park. Doing so he hopes to have a real concept of twinparks — one of them located in the EU (Kaunas) and one in the CIS (Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan). He does hope that Kaunas and Minsk will develop fruitful city relationships and cooperation. In logistic terms that may result in a green trade corridor between the 2 industrial logistic zones. The Great Stone park in Minsk is only a small part of an ambitious Chinese Government project called OBOR — one Belt one Road. This should become a global network of multimodal transport infrastructures connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans — Europe-Africa and Asia. OBOR embraces 70% of the world population, 55% of world GDP and 75% of world energy reserves. Not only China but also countries like Japan announced plans to invest in such global networks. Already in 2011, BMW organized regular container trains all the way from Leipzig to Shenyang in China. The trains were transporting more than 8.000 components to the assembly plants of BMW in China. In Leipzig a logistic center was built of 63.000 m 2 as logistic nexus to this new silk road — nearly 600 new jobs were created to support the German silk road project. From 2014 on, the Ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam also received regular long block trains that took the same land route; all the way from central China via Russia or Kazakhstan — on a journey of less than 14 days compared to the nearly 40 days by ocean transport. Although at first sight, a TEU container costs substantially more by rail than by sea — companies have discovered that for high valued consumer goods — the time gains, security 91