Belgium

Belgium does three-quarters of its trade with its EU partners, but that might open up as the EU begins to sign free-trade agreements with countries around the world.

Belgium imports raw materials, exports manufactured goods and capitalizes on its central geographic location in western Europe and its efficient transportation network, which includes ports and rail. Three-quarters of Belgium’s trade is done with its EU partners, although that may open up as the EU begins to sign free-trade agreements with countries around the world, including Canada.

According to the World Bank, Belgium’s GDP growth was 1% in 2014. To help improve the country’s economic growth, the European Commission recently recommended reforming pensions, adjusting taxation, addressing shortages of highly skilled workers and skills mismatches, and setting wages. As a result, the Belgian government plans to make major pension reforms.

FACTS FOR INVESTORS

1. Brussels is Belgium’s financial centre.
2. The country ranks 42nd out of 189 countries on the World Bank’s 2015 Ease of Doing Business index.
3. It is the world’s 20th-largest exporter and 16th-largest importer.
4. Forbes’ 2014 Best Countries for Business survey ranked Belgium 12th out of 100 countries.

BUSINESS ETIQUETTE

1. Last names first. In business, Belgians are more formal than Canadians. Canadians, for example, will quickly move to using first names, while in Belgium, that will only happen once you’ve established strong business ties.
2. Stay on track. Belgians are straightforward and results-oriented, yet they still like to get to know their counterparts and may suggest doing business over lunch or dinner.
3. Business currency. Have your business card on hand. If you show up without it, you will create the impression that you don’t care much about doing business.
4. Punching the clock. Belgians appreciate punctuality. Bear in mind, however, that Brussels is a busy city with unexpected traffic slowdowns.
5. Turn it off. Belgians won’t accept calls during a meeting, so it’s best to follow suit. Same goes for texting and email.

TRAVEL TIPS

1. Weather. Belgium has a temperate maritime climate, influenced by the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It has cool summers and moderate winters. Be prepared for rain at any time of the year.
2. English abounds. Although the official languages are Dutch, French and German, all Belgians learn English in high school and those who go to university are even more fluent. It’s easy to get around with English only.
3. Tipping point. Tipping — even 5% — is always appreciated in restaurants, but it’s not expected and most people don’t, as servers earn a living wage
4. Getting around. Belgium has one of the most efficient rail systems in the world. Getting around, even to neighbouring countries, is simple and fast. High-speed trains connect Brussels to other European cities and are more efficient than planes because they travel from one city centre to another. For example, you can go from Brussels to Paris in about 90 minutes.

It’s best to skip the car because public transit — which includes a subway in Brussels — is easy, much faster than driving and doesn’t require finding a parking spot. Check out first class on trains within Belgium and to other countries — it’s surprisingly inexpensive, quieter and gives you more legroom than in second class.

Belgium quick info