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Overseas Business Risk - Belgium
Information on key security and political risks which UK businesses may face when operating in Belgium.
Belgium and the United Kingdom are essential allies and close neighbours. We have a strong trading relationship and our supply chains are closely connected. Belgium is the UK’s seventh largest export and sixth largest import market (Dec 2021).
Belgium hosts the Headquarters of the EU Commission and Council, NATO and many other international organisations. It is the eighth most populated country of the European Union with 11.6 million inhabitants (Jan 2022).
Often referred to as the crossroads of Europe it consists of 2 very distinct cultural regions, Flanders (Dutch speaking north; population 6.6 million) and Wallonia (French speaking south; population 3.6 million). Brussels is officially bilingual (population 1.25 million). There is also a small German-speaking community (77,000) in the southeast.
Belgium is a constitutional monarchy governed by a multi-party coalition of both Flemish and Francophone parties. A federal state with three regions (Flanders, Wallonia and the Brussels Capital Region) and three language-based Communities (Flemish, French and German). Within the regions, there are 10 provinces and almost 600 local authorities (municipalities).
The Federal government is responsible for some major issues including defence, foreign affairs, justice and home affairs, national budget and social security. Regional responsibilities include environment, transport, energy, agriculture, and public works. Responsibility for education and culture rests with the language communities, while some issues, such as health, span all. Regional and community governments are entirely autonomous in the areas where power is devolved.
Federal, regional and community elections are held every 5 years, and provincial and local elections every 6 years. Voting is compulsory, except for the local and provincial level in Flanders. The most recent federal and regional elections were in May 2019. Regional Governments formed in September 2019, while the Federal Government formed on 1 October 2020. The current Federal Government is a seven-party coalition made up of Francophone and Flemish Socialists (PS and SP.A), Liberals (MR and Open VLD), Greens (Ecolo and Groen) and Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V).
Belgium has a developed, modern, private-enterprise economy. Exports amount to over 80% of its GDP. Main imports are raw materials, machinery and equipment, chemicals, raw diamonds, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, transportation equipment and oil products. Main exports are machinery and equipment, chemicals, finished diamonds, metals and metal products and foodstuffs.
With few natural resources, substantial quantities of its energy and raw materials are imported while large volumes of manufactured goods are exported, making its economy highly dependent on world markets and global trade.