Belgium

Executive Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the Belgian economy in 2020 and its effects will continue into 2021.  According to the National Bank of Belgium, real GDP contracted by 6.2% in 2020, and the impact on public finances led to a deficit of 10.1% of GDP and a national debt level of 115% of GDP.  Early economic forecasts for 2021 indicate that Belgium’s GDP might grow by as much as 3.9%, and the deficit will likely shrink to 7.6% of GDP.  Belgium will continue to rely on European Union financial support mechanisms, as well as interventions by its regional governments, as it aims to restart and rebuild the economy and implements a comprehensive economic recovery plan in the wake of the global health pandemic in 2021.

COVID-19 restrictions are likely to remain in place through 2021.  As Belgium’s vaccination plan gains momentum, however, those measures are expected to be rolled back.  Support measures, still ongoing at the beginning of 2021, should limit job losses (at least in the short term) and constrain the number of bankruptcies in the most affected sectors such as leisure, restaurants, hotels, and transport.

Belgium holds a unique position as a logistical hub and gateway to Europe, which will be of critical importance to jump-start the economy.  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 percent further improved the investment climate.  As it stands, the center-left government that took office on October 1, 2020 will not reverse this decision.

Belgium boasts an open market well connected to the major economies of the world. As a 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 boasts 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 2020, Belgian exports to the United States were worth $29 billion, and the U.S. market represented Belgium’s 5th largest export destination.  Of note, major Belgian exports included chemicals (65.6%), machinery and equipment (9.7%), and transport equipment (4.5%).  In 2020, the United States ranked as Belgium’s 4th largest supplier of imports with a total value of imported goods of nearly $27 billion.  Major U.S. exports to Belgium included chemicals (38.5%), transport equipment (12.9%) and machinery and equipment (12%).

To fully realize Belgium’s employment potential, it will be critical to address the fragmentation of the labor market. Job growth accelerated in Belgium prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (+6.9% in the period 2014-2019), driven by the cyclical recovery and the positive impact of past economic and market reforms.  Large regional disparities in unemployment rates persist, however, and there is a significant skills mismatch in several key sectors.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 15 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 46 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 22 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $63.2 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $48,030 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

Burundi

Executive Summary

Burundi is located in Central Africa and is one of the six member states of the East African Community (EAC). Burundi is one of the world’s most impoverished countries, with almost two-thirds of the population living below the poverty line, approximately 90 percent of the population reliant on subsistence farming, and a youth unemployment rate of about 65 percent. Economic growth is insufficient to create employment for Burundi’s rapidly growing population and the new administration of President Ndayishimiye, in power since June 2020, is actively seeking to increase existing value chains and find new sources of employment and revenue.

The government of Burundi (GoB) is also seeking to attract more foreign direct investment (FDI). In sharp contrast with the isolationist tendencies of the last administration, since taking office President Ndayishimiye has made or hosted multiple state visits with potential trade and development partners in the region, including Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, and Egypt. Given the importance of agriculture, the GoB is promoting initiatives to modernize and diversify agricultural production, seeking to increase production of crops beyond coffee and tea. In order to attract FDI, the GoB must address longstanding issues of poor governance and weak institutional capacity, corruption, instability of the local currency, financial restrictions and capital controls that limit access to and expatriation of foreign exchange, a low-skilled workforce, poor internet connectivity, and limited/unreliable economic statistics. Since 2008, members of the executive branch have granted large discretionary tax or related exemptions to private foreign companies by presidential decree or ministerial order to attract FDI. These direct government-to-company agreements undermine the Burundian tax law and the investment code. In addition to reducing revenues for the state, these exemptions disadvantage private companies already operating in Burundi by granting advantages to select competitors. The corporate tax rate is 30 percent, with reductions for companies that employ certain numbers of Burundian nationals.

The GoB is also working to develop infrastructure, including photovoltaic and hydroelectric power plants, road construction to improve access to the country and projects that will contribute to regional trade, such as the rehabilitation of Bujumbura Port and the construction of a railway joining Burundi and Tanzania. Burundi’s landlocked location and infrastructure constraints severely limit transportation of goods. Demand for electricity and water significantly exceeds capacity, and the transmission system is old and poorly maintained, leading to rolling blackouts and outages. In the mining sector, which some industry players believe has great potential for development, activity has increased but overall yields remain low, and infrastructure needed to support an expansion of mining, including electricity and transportation, are insufficient.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 165 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 166 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
 
Global Innovation Index 2019 128 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 1.0 million https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 280 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD
 
Investment Climate Statements
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