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Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Belgium

FDI in Figures

The Belgian economy has traditionally been characterised by high foreign direct investment (FDI). According to the latest World Investment Report 2021 published by UNCTAD, FDI inflows increased to reach USD 8.3 billion in 2020 (from USD 3 billion one year earlier), despite volatility due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, FDI stocks increased slightly from the previous year to USD 635 billion. On the other hand, in terms of FDI outflows there has been a notable increase in 2020, as they rose from USD 1.5 billion to USD 10 billion. 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.

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

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Latest Update: June 2022

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