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Official Name: Kingdom of Belgium

Internet Domain: .be
International Dialing Code: +32

Table of Contents

Location and Size Credit and Collections
Government Risk Assessment
Legal System Business Climate
Interesting Facts Business Protocol
Economy Other Sources of Info
Comparative Economic Indicators

Location and Size

Belgium is located in Western Europe between France and the Netherlands, bordering the North Sea. Its land area is 30,278 sq. km, making it approximately the size of Maryland.

Government

A federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. Belgium has 3 regions: French, Dutch and Brussels Capital. As a result of the 1993 constitutional revision that furthered devolution into a federal state, the country now has three levels of government: federal, regional, and linguistic community.

Branches of the Belgian Government:

Executive:

  • chief of state King ALBERT II; Heir Apparent Prince PHILIPPE, son of the monarch
  • head of government Prime Minister Yves LETERME - the king accepted the resignation of LETERME on April 26, 2010; LETERME remains as caretaker
  • cabinet: Council of Ministers formally appointed by the monarch

Legislative: bicameral Parliament consisting of:

  • Senate (71 seats; 40 members directly elected by popular vote, 31 indirectly elected)
  • Chamber of Deputies (150 members directly elected by popular vote)

Judicial:

  • Constitutional Court (judges appointed by the King)
  • Supreme Court of Justice (judges appointed for life by the government)

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Legal System

Belgium has a civil law system based on the French Civil Code. Its law continues to be modified in conformance with the legislative norms mandated by the European Union.

Belgium accepts compulsory International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction with reservations. (What does this mean?) Belgium also accepts ICCt jurisdiction. Read about the ICCt on Wikipedia.

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Interesting Facts About Belgium

  • More than 800 kinds of beer are made in Belgium; Belgians consume an average 150 liters of beer per person per year
  • Belgium produces 220,000 tons of chocolate per year
  • Belgium has one of the lowest proportion of McDonald’s restaurants in the developed world: just 0.062 per inhabitant, which is 1/7 the U.S. proportion, ¼ that of Japan, and 1/2 of France and Germany
  • Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002 and gay marriage in 2003
  • Belgium requires its citizens to vote, and enforces the requirement
  • The Belgian motorway system is the only man-made structure visible from the moon
  • Belgium produces the greatest variety of bricks in the world
  • Brussels is home of the world’s deepest swimming pool: 35 meters deep

Want to read more? Visit www.eupedia.com/belgium/

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Map of Belgium

Economy

Belgium is a relatively prosperous country. However, with few natural resources, Belgium must import substantial quantities of raw materials in order to export a large volume of manufactures. This makes its economy vulnerable to volatility in world markets.

Roughly three-quarters of Belgium's trade is with other EU countries. Belgian banks were severely affected by the international financial crisis with three major banks receiving capital injections from the government. An ageing population and rising social expenditures are also mid- to long-term challenges to public finances.

Factors that negatively affect Belgium’s financial health include marked regional disparities accompanied by political, cultural, and financial tensions and a weak banking system whose assets represent 340% of GDP.

The current economic crisis has left Belgium in a difficult financial situation. The country faces a large public debt. The budget deficit has deepened, which has prompted the European Council to open an excessive deficit procedure. The government however refuses to adopt austerity measures and instead has decided to set up an economic stimulus plan.

Leading Markets (2009): Germany 19.58%, France 17.71%, Netherlands 11.84%, UK 7.21%, US 5.37%, Italy 4.77%

Leading Exports-commodities: machinery and equipment, chemicals, finished diamonds, metals and metal products, foodstuffs

Leading Suppliers (2009): Netherlands 17.93%, Germany 17.14%, France 11.69%, Ireland 6.26%, US 5.74%, UK 5.07%, China 4.09%

Leading Imports-commodities: raw materials, machinery and equipment, chemicals, raw diamonds, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, transportation equipment, oil products

Top Industries: engineering and metal products, motor vehicle assembly, transportation equipment, scientific instruments, processed food and beverages, chemicals, basic metals, textiles, glass, petroleum

Top Agricultural Products: sugar beets, fresh vegetables, fruits, grain, tobacco; beef, veal, pork, milk

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Comparative Economic Indicators – 2010 est.

Belgium France Netherlands Luxembourg Germany USA
Population* (millions) 10.4 65.3 16.8 0.5 81.5 313.2
Population growth rate* (%) 0.1 0.5 0.4 1.1 -0.2 1.0
Age Structure* (%) (15 to 64 years old) 66.1 64.7 67.4 66.9 66.1 66.8
Age Structure (%) (65+ years old) 18.0 16.8 15.6 14.9 20.6 13.1
Literacy (%) 99.0 99.0 99.0 100.0 99.0 99.0
Unemployment (%) 8.5 9.5 5.5 5.5 7.4 9.7
Inflation (%) 2.3 1.5 1.1 2.1 1.1 1.4
Population below poverty line (%) 15.2 6.2 10.5
(2005)/td>
NA 15.5 12.0
GDP** (USD billions) 394.3 2,145.0 783.3 41.09 2,940.0 14,072.0
GDP real growth rate** (%) 2,9 1.5 1.7 3.4 3.5 2.7
GDP per capita** (USD) 37,800 33,100 40,300 82,600 35,700 47,400
Public debt (% of GDP) 98.6 83.5 64.6 16.2 78.8 59.0
Exports (USD billions) 27.2 508.7 451.3 17.8 1,337.0 1,027.0
Imports (USD billions) 281.7 577.7 408.4 23.7 1,120.0 1,903.0
Currency Euro
EUR
Euro
EUR
Euro
EUR
Euro
EUR
Euro
EUR
Dollar
USD
Exchange rates (per USD)06/20/2011 0.7 0.7 0.7 0.7 0.7 n/a
Exchange rates (per USD)06/20/2011 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 1.4
Rating in 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index*** 7.1 6.8 8.8 8.5 7.9 7.1
Rating in 2011 Index of Economic Freedom**** 70.2 64.6 74.7 76.2 71.8 77.8

* July, 2011 estimates
** PPP - Purchasing Power Parity
*** 2010 Corruptions Index: 10=Very Clean; 0=Highly Corrupt
**** 2011 Index of Economic Freedom: 100-80=Free; 49.9-0=Repressed

Economic Data from CIA World Factbook
2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, Tranparency International
Index of Economic Freedom, Heritage Foundation

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Credit and Collections

ABC-Amega’s collection experience in Belgium

Collecting in Belgium is rather normal. There are no laws or other impediments to collecting.

Per Vanessa Bersani, AVP, International Department: Whereas in Spain and France originals of invoices are required for debtors to make a payment, in Belgium, an electronic copy is usually sufficient.

The following information on debt collection in Belgium was provided to us by Eric Van Even, Credit Control Manager, Gosselin Group NV, Belgium. It was prepared by Law Firm Van Dievoet, Jegers, Van der Mosen & Partners, which is no longer in existence in Belgium. Note that these are excerpts of the information provided.

Belgium law states that, if no payment term has been agreed upon, interest is due automatically 30 days following the date the debtor receives the invoice or an equivalent payment request. If this date is uncertain, interest becomes due after the receipt of goods/services or 30 days after the date on which acceptance or verification takes place. The applicable interest rate is fixed at the European Central Bank. The creditor is also entitled to claim reasonable compensation for recovery costs.

Every business established in Belgium is required to file a certified copy of its annual accounts and balance sheet with the National Bank of Belgium. This information is public and copies can be obtained on demand.

Legal Protections

Attachment. If the delinquent debtor posses real estate or personal property, it is possible to seize these goods for security. The debtor will continue to have title of ownership; he cannot sell the attached goods or further organize his own insolvency. However, the debt must fulfill the following conditions:

  • It must be certain. An attachment will not be allowed for potential, conditional or disputed debts.
  • It must be payable. The debt is past due.
  • It must be fixed. The amount of the debt must be specified or can easily be specified.

Law Suit: Normally, legal action commences by serving a writ on the debtor. This writ must include:

  • The identity of the parties.
  • The subject of the claim and a short summary of the grounds on which the claim is based.
  • The judges by whom the case will be heard.
  • The time and place of the first court hearing.

Arbitration. Belgium signed the U.N. 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in 1958. This Convention was ratified in Belgium on August 18, 1975.

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Risk Assessment

Coface Country Rating: A2 – low risk
Coface Business Climate Rating: A1 – low risk

According to Coface, Belgian companies suffered in the recent financial crisis. Operating income declined on average a cumulative 30% from its level in 2008-2009. This weakening of corporate earnings performance has resulted in an annual increase in bankruptcies of about 10% through 2010. However, progress made in 2010 in improving average operating income augurs well for a reduction in the number of companies filing for bankruptcy protection.

Ducroire Delcredere Political Risk Rating: 1 – lowest risk
Ducroire Delcredere Commercial Risk Rating: B – moderate risk

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Business Climate

This modern, open, and private-enterprise-based economy has capitalized on its central geographic location, highly developed transport network, and diversified industrial and commercial base.

With exports and imports approximately equal to GDP, Belgium depends heavily on world trade. Belgium's trade advantages are derived from its central geographic location and a highly skilled, multilingual, and productive work force.

Most of Belgium's trade is with fellow EU member states. As a result, Belgium seeks to diversify and expand trade opportunities with non-EU countries.

Economic Freedom: According to The Heritage Foundation’s 2011 Index of Economic Freedom, Belgium’s score is 70.2, making it the 32nd freest economy in the 2011 Index. Belgium is ranked 18th freest among the 43 countries in the European region and its overall score is above regional and global averages.

Regulatory System: Complex sharing of authority between regions, linguistic communities, and the federal government make the regulatory system difficult to navigate.

Corruption: Per Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, Belgium received a score of 7.1 out of 10 (fairly free of corruption). It ranked 22nd out of 178 countries rated.

For more detailed information on these topics, visit the 2010 Investment Climate Statement – Belgium of the U.S. Department of State.

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Business Protocol in Belgium

  • Belgians take time to trust others.
  • They often engage in long, critical discussions before reaching a decision so that they can be certain that they have considered all the alternatives.
  • Business dealings tend to be bureaucratic. There are many procedures and a great deal of paperwork.
  • Belgians are excellent linguists and many are sufficiently fluent to conduct meetings in English.
  • Belgians prefer subtlety to directness, believing that subtlety is a reflection of intelligence.
  • Although it is becoming increasingly common for colleagues to use first names at work, this practice remains rare when there is a distinct difference in age or position and when dealing with 'outsiders' such as clients or suppliers.
  • Women remain in a largely subordinate position to men in business, but this situation is changing and female business travelers usually find acceptance throughout corporate Belgium, especially in the major cities.

More information on Belgian Business Protocol:

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Sources for further information on doing business in Belgium

Amcham Belgium

Doing Business guide in Belgium, PricewaterhouseCoopers

Embassy of the United States, Brussels, Belgium

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This information is provided by ABC-Amega Inc. Providing international receivable management and debt collection services for exporters to more than 200 countries including Belgium. For further information, contact info@abc-amega.com.

This report represents a compilation of information from a wide variety of reputable sources.

Comparative Economic Indicators: CIA World Factbook

Risk Assessment information: Coface Country Rating and Ducroire/Delcredere.

Exchange Rates: OANDA.com The Currency Site.

Other information is provided by sites including FITA.