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Foreign Direct Investment

The Belgian economy has traditionally been characterised by high foreign direct investment (FDI). According to the latest World Investment Report 2022 published by UNCTAD, FDI inflows increased significantly to reach USD 25.5 billion in 2021 (from USD 11.9 billion one year earlier), despite volatility due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021, FDI stocks decreased slightly to USD 604 billion from USD 617 billion in the previous year. The main investing countries remain France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Japan, USA, and Germany. Investments continue to be mainly oriented towards manufacturing, financial and insurance activities, wholesale and retail trade, electricity, gas, private real estate, information and communication, transport and storage. According to the latest data from OECD, FDI inflows reached USD 4.1 billion in the first half of 2021, compared to a negative balance of USD 13.5 billion in the same period one year earlier.

Belgium's investment attractiveness can be attributed to its strategic geographic position at the crossroads of the main European markets, its quality of transport, logistics and telecommunications infrastructure, its trade specialised in semi-processed and semi-finished goods, a multilingual and qualified labour force and high levels of purchasing power. The stability of the society, the quality of the labour and the infrastructures have been attracting projects. In the latest Doing Business ranking published by the World Bank, Belgium is ranked 46th out of 190 countries, moving down one spot compared to the previous edition. There are currently no limits on foreign ownership or control in Belgium and there are no distinctions between Belgian and foreign companies. However, a proposal for a federal screening mechanism is pending before the Belgian Chamber of Representatives: such proposed law would introduce an ex ante screening mechanism for non-EU investors intending to invest in a number of strategic sectors (including health, energy, transport, artificial intelligence, and the aerospace industry, media, etc.).

 
 
Foreign Direct Investment 201920202021
FDI Inward Flow (million USD) 1,75211,91325,577
FDI Stock (million USD) 597,752617,252604,647
Number of Greenfield Investments* 209215270
Value of Greenfield Investments (million USD) 8,4794,9867,468

Source: UNCTAD - Latest available data.

Note: * Greenfield Investments are a form of Foreign Direct Investment where a parent company starts a new venture in a foreign country by constructing new operational facilities from the ground up.

Country Comparison For the Protection of Investors Belgium OECD United States Germany
Index of Transaction Transparency* 8.0 6.5 7.0 5.0
Index of Manager’s Responsibility** 6.0 5.3 9.0 5.0
Index of Shareholders’ Power*** 7.0 7.3 9.0 5.0

Source: Doing Business - Latest available data.

Note: *The Greater the Index, the More Transparent the Conditions of Transactions. **The Greater the Index, the More the Manager is Personally Responsible. *** The Greater the Index, the Easier it Will Be For Shareholders to Take Legal Action.

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What to consider if you invest in Belgium

Strong Points

Belgium's strengths in term of FDI attraction include:

  • A highly educated, productive, multilingual and flexible workforce
  • Quality business infrastructure, logistics and telecommunications (with the second largest European harbour, Anvers)
  • Strategic geographical location at the crossroads of some of the main European markets
  • A tradition of openness to international trade
  • Businesses specialised in the supply of intermediate and semi-finished goods
  • Strong purchasing power
  • Good quality of life.
Weak Points

Belgium's weak points include:

  • High cost of salaries
  • High level of corporate tax
  • Complex procedures of dismissal
  • Dependence to the economic situation of Euro Zone
  • Multilingual consumers create a need to focus heavily on labelling and marketing strategy
  • High level of public debt
  • Tensions between Flander and Wallonia.
Government Measures to Motivate or Restrict FDI

Investment incentives and subsidies are generally managed separately by the three Belgian regions of Brussels, Flanders, and Wallonia. In their investment policies, the regional governments emphasize innovation promotion, research and development, energy savings, environmental protection, exports, and most of all, employment. In general, all regional and national incentives are available to foreign and domestic investors with the same conditions.
Companies investing in Belgium may benefit from various tax reductions and exemptions:

  • an exemption of 85% of net income for innovation income from patents, copyrighted software, plant breeders' rights. This means that companies conducting their own R&D activities can benefit from a tax deduction of up to 85% on future profits generated by intellectual property rights (resulting in an effective tax rate of 5.1% on qualifying profits).
  • investment deduction for investments in new assets
  • a federal tax exemption for a number of subsidies granted by the Regions
  • an 80% tax exemption on wages relating to the employment of qualifying researchers. To benefit from this exemption, the R&D project must be reported to and approved by the Public Federal Administration for Scientific Policy (Belspo).


For further information consult the website Business.Belgium.

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Investment Opportunities

The Key Sectors of the National Economy
  • Food: the food industry comprises a major sector of the economy. The world's largest food groups are active in Belgium (Danone, InBev, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods Belgium, Nestlé, Materne, Ferrero, etc.).
  • Biotechnology: around 140 companies are active in biotechnology in Belgium. Universities and research centres have forged strong links with economic players to develop this forward-looking sector.
  • Property industry: Brussels offers a strategic location, an attractive property market and the presence of key European decision-making bodies, making it the ideal headquarters for major corporations. Hundreds of multinationals – mainly American and Japanese – have their European headquarters in Belgium.
  • Transport and logistics: Belgium is the perfect location for a logistical base, headquarters or distribution centre in mainland Europe. The infrastructure, skills and IT facilities provide an ideal environment and beachhead for conquering the European market.
  • Automotive: over the past 20 years Belgium has turned out an average of 1,000,000 vehicles a year, most of them destined for export. Belgium is a key player in vehicle assembly. With plants like Opel Antwerp, Ford Genk, Audi Forest/Brussels, Volvo Europa, Van Hool (buses) and Truco, Belgium has a strong presence in the production market.
  • The information and communication technology sector is dynamic in Belgium, notably thanks to the quality of telecommunication infrastructure.
  • Aerospace: Belgian industry plays a key role in the aerospace sector. Many aircraft bear the stamp of Belgian know-how: Airbuses, Boeing, the F-16, the Rafale, the Falcon 7X, the Ariane 4 and 5 space programs, SPOT earth observation satellites to name but a few. In its economic development plan, the Walloon Region specifically promotes competitiveness in the aerospace industry.
High Potential Sectors
There is significant growth in the service sector. The country has switched from heavy production to light manufacturing and is producing finished goods instead of steel, textiles, and raw materials. Belgium imports basic or intermediary goods, adds value to them through advanced manufacturing and then exports the finished products. With the exception of its remaining coal resources, Belgium has no significant natural resources. The renewable energies sector is developing taking into account the goals set by the European Union, but remains underdeveloped.
Privatization Programmes
At the moment, Belgium has no scheduled privatizations, although there are ongoing discussions about a possible privatization of the state-owned bank Belfius and the government share in telecom operator Proximus. Despite calls to open up the Belgian railway sector to private companies, the government announced in September 2020 that SNCB will remain the only railway operator for the next ten years.
Tenders, Projects and Public Procurement
EBP, Tenders and Projects in Belgium
Tenders Info, Tenders in Belgium
TED - European Public Markets, European Tenders
 

Sectors Where Investment Opportunities Are Fewer

Monopolistic Sectors
Lottery, the post (Bpost, which is not officially a monopoly but is protected against private actors, as underlined by the European Commission). 
Sectors in Decline
Construction, steel, nuclear power.
 

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