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NEWS & EVENTS:


Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Belgium

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FDI in Figures

The Belgian economy has traditionally been characterised by high foreign direct investment (FDI). After a record-high 2018 which saw FDI inflows reach USD 17,73 billion, the FDI inflow registered a nearly 50% drop in 2019 falling to USD 9,7 billion, according to the latest World Investment Report 2020 published by the UNCTAD. The substantial change in FDI inflows observed in 2019, can likely be attributed to Brexit uncertainty. In 2019, FDI stocks increased slightly as compared to the previous year reaching USD 566 billion (an increase from USD 564 billion in 2018).

 

Belgium


According to the latest available data from Statista, in 2018, 278 investment projects were achieved, 29% more than in 2017, creating an all-time high number of jobs (7,363). Flanders and Brussels-Capital region reached their highest number ever (169 and 61 projects respectively), followed by Wallonia (48 projects). The stability of the society, the quality of the labour and the infrastructures have been attracting projects. The corporate tax has decreased, and this measure has had an important effect on the attractiveness of the country. 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.

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. In the 2020 Doing Business rankings published by the World Bank, Belgium is ranked 46th out of 190 countries, moving down one spot compared to the previous year. Business investment could be stronger than expected, if the tight labour market leads to more labour-saving investment than projected.

 

FDI Inward Flow (million USD)FDI Stock (million USD)Number of Greenfield Investments*Value of Greenfield Investments (million USD)

Foreign Direct Investment 2017 2018 2019
5,159 17,733 9,707
602,286 555,940 566,116
213 216 209
4,589 6,071 8,479

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.

 

Index of Transaction Transparency*Index of Manager’s Responsibility**Index of Shareholders’ Power***

Country Comparison For the Protection of Investors Belgium OECD United States Germany
8.0 6.0 7.4 5.0
6.0 5.0 8.6 5.0
7.0 7.0 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. **** The Greater the Index, the Higher the Level of Investor Protection.

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.

Bilateral investment conventions signed by BelgiumTo consult the list of investment agreements signed by Belgium, refer to UNCTAD's International Investment Agreements Navigator.