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Belgium sets up English-language business court to cash in on Brexit

Brussels - Belgium is setting up a new English-language court to settle international business disputes in the latest move by an EU country to try to lure companies away from London after Brexit.

The Brussels International Business Court will hold hearings and issue judgments in English and the government said it expects Britain's departure from the EU "will only increase the number of these disputes" that need to be resolved.

Fierce rivalry has erupted among European capitals to seduce banks, insurers and other firms looking to relocate from London since Britain's shock vote last year to quit the EU.

"If we are to make Brussels a hub for international business, those concerned must be able to resolve their legal disputes without going overseas or resorting to private arbitration," the government said in a statement announcing the plans on Friday.

"According to forecasts, Brexit will only increase the number of these cases and Brexit means it will no longer be as simple to go to a London court."

Judges will be chosen for their specialist expertise and there will be no appeal against the court's judgments, which the government said will ensure swift, decisive results.

An exodus of major finance houses including HSBC and JPMorgan from London is already on the cards, while the slow pace of Brexit talks and growing threat of Britain crashing out of the EU in March 2019 with no legal deal in place are making businesses more nervous than ever.

Prime Minister Charles Michel said the English-language court, billed as a first in a non-English speaking country, would add to Belgium's appeal as a base for companies dealing in contracts in English.

"The European Union's development cannot be held back by Brexit. Our country is seizing the moment to offer a new judicial tool," Michel said in a statement.

"The competence and independence of our judges will help make this new jurisdiction extremely attractive."

Talks between London and the EU on the terms of Britain's departure have hit trouble, largely over the question of how much the UK will pay as it leaves. A sixth round of negotiations is expected in the coming weeks, but no date has been announced yet.

By Damon Wake.