Belgium

Executive Summary

According to its most recent report, the Belgian central bank expects gross domestic product (GDP) to grow 2.6% in 2022 despite economic headwinds linked to global supply chain bottlenecks, spiking energy costs, and uncertainty related to COVID-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Experts project that Belgium’s growth rate will slow but remain above potential, dipping slightly to 2.4% in 2023 and further to 1.6% in 2024. The labor market remains strong as overall job numbers continue to increase, and analysts anticipate that the unemployment rate will decline steadily to 5.7% by 2024. The inflation rate will likely continue to increase, largely driven by rising energy prices. The Belgian central bank expects the rate to peak in 2022 at 4.9% and then decline as energy markets stabilize. Belgium’s budget deficit is projected to reach 6.3% of GDP for 2021 – down from a high of 9.1% in 2020 – and will likely remain above 4% of GDP through 2024. The level of government debt will hold steady, with most experts projecting 108.9% of GDP in 2021, 106.3% in 2022 and 107.5% in 2023.

Belgium is a major logistical hub and gateway to Europe, a position that helps drives its economic growth.  Since June 2015, the Belgian government has undertaken a series of measures to reduce the tax burden on labor and to increase Belgium’s economic competitiveness and attractiveness to foreign investment.  A July 2017 decision to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25% further improved the investment climate. The current coalition government has not signaled any intention to revise this tax rate.

Belgium boasts an open market well connected to the major economies of the world. As a logistical gateway to Europe, host to major EU institutions, and a central location closely tied to the major European economies, Belgium is an attractive market and location for U.S. investors. Belgium is a highly developed, long-time economic partner of the United States that benefits from an extremely well-educated workforce, world-renowned research centers, and the infrastructure to support a broad range of economic activities

Belgium has a dynamic economy and attracts significant levels of investment in chemicals, petrochemicals, plastics and composites; environmental technologies; food processing and packaging; health technologies; information and communication; and textiles, apparel and sporting goods, among other sectors.  In 2021, Belgian exports to the U.S. market totaled $27.7 billion, registering the United States as Belgium’s fourth largest export destination.  Key exports included chemicals (37.6%), machinery and equipment (10.9%), and precious metals and stones (5.9%).  In terms of imports, the United States ranked as Belgium’s fourth largest supplier of imports, with the value of imported goods totaling $27.6 billion in 2021.  Key imports from the United States included chemicals (38.8%), machinery and equipment (11%), and plastics (10.7%).

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 18 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 22 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) N/A USD Amount https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 45,750USD https://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Belgium maintains an open economy, and its prosperity is highly dependent on international trade.  Since WWII, making Belgium attractive to foreign investors has been the cornerstone of successive Belgian governments’ foreign and commercial policy.  Competence over policies that weigh on the attractiveness of Belgium as a destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) lie predominantly with the federal government, which is responsible for developing domestic competition policy, wage setting policies, labor law, and most of the energy and fiscal policies.  Attracting FDI, however, is the responsibility of Belgium’s three regional governments in Flanders, Wallonia, and the Brussels-Capital Region.  Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT), Wallonia Foreign Trade and Investment Agency (AWEX) and Brussels Invest and Export (BIE) are the three investment promotion agencies responsible for attracting FDI to Belgium.  One of their most visible activities is organizing the Royal Trade Missions, which are led by Princess Astrid (the king’s sister), as well as the economic part of the state visits by King Philippe.  In June 2022, Princess Astrid plans to lead a Royal Trade Mission to Atlanta, New York City, and Boston with more than 500 participants. Neither the federal nor the regional governments currently maintain a formal dialogue with investors.

There are no laws in place that discriminate against foreign investors.  [While U.S. companies continue to play key and long-standing roles in the development of the Belgian economy, a major U.S.-based multinational firm operating in the chemical cluster near the Port of Antwerp has raised concerns that Flemish government officials have unfairly regulated the company and subjected it to strict limitations not applied to other companies operating in the same sector and space.  The firm and the Flemish government remain in regular contact to seek a fair and equitable solution; however, the perceived lack of regulatory certainty could lead to a reduction of industry investment and operations in Belgium if unresolved.

There are currently no limits on foreign ownership or control in Belgium, and there are no distinctions between Belgian and foreign companies when establishing or owning a business or setting up a remunerative activity.

Belgian authorities are, however, developing a national security-based investment screening law that will likely establish certain restrictions based on national security concerns.  The draft law is not expected to be finalized and delivered to Parliament for vote before the end of 2022.

In July 2019 the OECD published an in-depth productivity review of Belgium: https://www.oecd.org/belgium/in-depth-productivity-review-of-belgium-88aefcd5-en.htm .  Belgium was included in the WTO Trade Policy Review of the European Union which took place February 18-20, 2020: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp495_e.htm . In June 2021, Belgium was subject of an IMF Article IV mission: https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2021/06/29/mcs062921-belgium-staff-concluding-statement-of-the-2021-article-iv-mission 

To set up a business in Belgium, one must:

1. Deposit at least 20% of the initial capital with a Belgian credit institution and obtain a standard certification confirming that the amount is held in a blocked capital account;

2. Deposit a financial plan with a notary, and sign the deed of incorporation and the by-laws in the presence of a notary, who authenticates the documents and registers the deed of incorporation. The authentication act must be drawn up in French, Dutch, or German (Belgium’s three official languages); and

3. Register with one of the Registers of legal entities, VAT and social security at a centralized company docket and obtain a company number.

In most cases, the business registration process can be completed within one week. https://www.business.belgium.be/en/setting_up_your_business 

Based on the number of employees, the projected annual turnover, and the shareholder class, a company will qualify as a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) according to the terms of the Promotion of Independent Enterprise Act of February 10, 1998. For a small or medium-sized enterprise, registration is possible once a certificate of competence has been obtained. The person in charge of the daily management of the company must prove his or her knowledge of business management with diplomas and/or practical experience.

A company is expected to allow trade union delegations when employing 20 or more full-time equivalents (FTEs).

The three Belgian regions each have their own investment promotion agency, whose services are available to all foreign investors.

Belgium does not actively promote outward investment.  There are no restrictions for domestic investors to invest in certain countries, other than those that fall under UN or EU sanction regimes.  In June 2022, the Belgian government plans to lead a Royal Trade Mission to Atlanta, New York City, and Boston with more than 500 participants. The mission will promote both Belgian investment into the United States and encourage foreign direct investment into Belgium.

Investment Climate Statements
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