Translation and localisation support plays a major role in a successful export strategy so K International is producing a number of country-specific export guides to provide your business with some helpful information. You can read the introduction and view other guides as they become available right here.
Belgium’s market offers a range of opportunities to UK businesses looking to export their goods and services overseas. This affluent, multicultural country is within easy reach of the UK and offers a highly competitive marketplace for UK exporters. With a population of more than 11 million, the country offers strong purchasing power in an environment that is receptive to UK goods.
This Belgium business culture guide takes an in-depth look at business, linguistic and cultural considerations for companies looking at expanding abroad.
Belgium export guide – country profile
The Kingdom of Belgium is home to great linguistic diversity, with Dutch, French and German all listed as its official languages. Around 55% of Belgians speak Dutch as their first language, while 36% speak French and around 0.4% speak German. In terms of second languages, 13% of the population speaks Dutch, 45% French and 22% German. The local form of Dutch is known as Flemish.
A number of regional languages are also spoken in Belgium. These include West Flemish, Limburgish and Luxembourgish. Furthermore, some 38% of the population speaks English as a second language. Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Turkish, Portuguese and Yiddish are also spoken by small percentages of the Belgian people.
The language used to conduct business will depend on the first (and sometimes second) language spoken at the company in question. The fact that more than one in three Belgians speaks English as a second language makes conducting business there easier for English companies, but English can’t be relied upon for business interactions. Therefore, the use of business translation services is recommended for those companies looking to get ahead in the Belgian marketplace. Professional translation services are also essential for product packaging, information manuals, health and safety warnings, contractual documents and more.
85.05% of Belgians are connected to the internet, placing the country 22nd in the world for its connectivity levels. The high speed and mobile internet infrastructure in Belgium is well advanced and businesses looking to open an office in Belgium shouldn’t face any issues in terms of decent connectivity. In fact, Belgium’s ICT sector is so well developed that it contributes around 10% of the country’s GDP.
Belgium has a modern, thriving economy with an excellent transport infrastructure. It’s geographical position and mixture of industry and commerce have positioned it well in terms of having a diverse economy. Belgium is also known as an early adopter of new technologies, making it a dynamic, forward-looking marketplace for companies looking to trial new products.
Despite the country’s relatively small size, Belgium ranks 25th in the world in terms of its nominal GDP, based on data from the International Monetary Fund. In terms of wealth per adult, Belgium ranks 4th globally, with an average wealth of US$278,139 per adult.
Belgium has used the euro as its currency since its introduction in 1999. The Belgian franc, which had been used since 1832, was taken out of circulation by 2002 to make way for the euro.
Imports and exports
Belgium’s diverse economy sees a lively trade in imports and exports. According to the World Integrated Trade Solution service from the World Bank, its imports are worth $372,712,712.54 thousand, while its exports are worth $398,033,265.36 thousand.
The Netherlands tops the list of countries from which Belgium imports good, with a value of $60,037,963.00 thousand. Germany comes second, with Belgium importing $50,606,489.37 thousand. That’s followed by France ($35,257,734.20 thousand), the United States ($30,104,227.77 thousand) and the United Kingdom ($17,755,658.20 thousand).
Medicaments, petroleum oils, automobiles and unworked diamonds all feature on Belgium’s list of top imports. From the UK specifically, Belgium’s top imports are much the same, with chemical products, medical products, automotive equipment and diamonds all playing a key role.
When it comes to exports, Germany is Belgium’s most important market, with exports totalling $66,355,357.72 thousand. Next comes France (at $61,286,637.05 thousand), then the Netherlands ($44,726,391.88 thousand), the UK ($35,417,366,77 thousand) and the US ($23,043,242.82 thousand).
Belgium’s most-exported goods mirror its top imports, namely: medicaments, petroleum oils, automobiles and diamonds.
Among Belgium’s top industries are chemical and life sciences and petrochemicals manufacturing. It is home to the second largest petrochemicals manufacturing cluster on the planet (second only to Houston, Texas). Pharmaceutical research and manufacturing is also big business in Belgium. Energy, ICT, security, construction and food and drink are also important sectors to the Belgian economy. Businesses looking to work in these sectors can often benefit from support with legal translation, as well as more generalised business translation services.
Business culture guide for Belgium
Localisation support is always important for companies seeking to operate in new, foreign marketplaces and Belgium is no exception. Its people are known for being very self-reliant and for not jumping in to new situations until they have established how the land lies. This can be a little disorientating for UK businesspeople at first, but good localisation support can help with an understanding of such cultural considerations.
Belgians enjoy a healthy respect for authority and hierarchy is important. Challenging those in positions of authority is not routinely undertaken. The introduction of potentially unpopular working policies therefore needs to be managed carefully, as covert resistance can take the place of decisions being challenged.
Hard work, pragmatism and results are all prized in Belgium, as is being polite and amiable. These characteristics can make for excellent working relationships and with strong business partnerships founded on mutual trust.
Cross cultural business relationships
As the home of many EU institutions, as well as NATO, Belgium offers an excellent environment for those looking to make powerful connections. It is also home to many multinational companies, with more than 1,000 public and private international organisations based there.
Business relations between the UK and Belgium are strong. Major UK companies working in Belgium include Shell, BP, BT and GSK.
One attraction of the Belgian marketplace for UK exporters is how fast they can set up operations there. It takes just three days to complete the administration required to set up a start-up in Belgium (though banking, transport and insurance enterprises take longer). The open marketplace means that UK companies have plenty of options for how they structure their operations there, from working through local partners and distributors to setting up local subsidiaries and joint ventures.
Products and packaging for products being exported to Belgium must meet EU standards, just as goods sold in the UK must do. Regulatory and compliance translation services can assist businesses with these requirements.
If your company would like to explore exporting to Belgium, it’s time to contact the K International team. We can assist with all forms of business translation and legal translation in order to get your venture off to the best possible start.