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Belgium: Doing business and staying in touch

Doing Business in Belgium

A certain degree of business formality is expected in Belgium. It is wise for business visitors to confirm meetings in writing and arrive punctually, armed with business cards and wearing a suit - with a tie for men. Companies are hierarchical, and as many managing directors do not delegate, it is advisable to go straight to the top.

On introduction, you should address colleagues with their surname, respecting any professional or academic qualifications. Language can be tricky: judge carefully whether to use Dutch or French. If you’re unsure, it’s best to speak English. Personal relationships are important, so relaxed lunch meetings help develop trust - a stage that must be reached before decisions are made. It is common for business colleagues to be invited for an apéritif, followed by dinner at a nice restaurant, although usually not at the first meeting.

Office Hours

Mon-Fri 0830-1730.

Economy

The economies of Belgium and Luxembourg have been unified since 1921, when the two governments signed a Convention of Economic Union; this is distinct from the Benelux Union (which includes The Netherlands) and the EU (Belgium being a founder member of both).

For its size, Belgium is one of the most heavily industrialised countries in Europe, but here like elsewhere, the scale of the worldwide banking crisis had a profound effect. GDP growth was negative in 2009.

Belgium still imports huge quantities of raw materials, largely to be reworked for export, and manufactured goods and machinery remain a vital part of the economy. Exports are equivalent to roughly two-thirds of gross national product.

Coal mining, previously a major industry, ceased when the last mine was closed in 1992. Nuclear power accounts for almost two-thirds of Belgium's energy consumption; the remainder is generated from imported fuel products.
There is an extensive range of meeting venues throughout the country. In 2016, Belgium occupied 18th place in the International Congress and Convention Association rankings for numbers of association meetings staged worldwide, while Brussels was 23rd most popular city for such gatherings.

GDP

US$466.4 billion (2016).

Main exports

Machinery and equipment, chemicals, finished diamonds, metal, and food.

Main imports

Machinery and equipment, oil, food, chemicals, vehicles, metals, raw diamonds.

Main trading partners

Main trade partners: Germany, The Netherlands and France.

Keeping in Touch in Belgium

Telephone

Belgium’s international dialling code is 0032. For directory enquiries, dial 1405 (English). There are call boxes in all major towns and country districts, and telecards are available from newsagents, supermarkets, railway stations and post offices.

Mobile Phone

Roaming agreements exist with most international mobile phone companies. The main networks are Proximus, Base and Orange Belgium (formerly Mobistar). Coverage is excellent.

Internet

Wi-Fi is widely available and often free in hotels and cafés. Designated internet cafés are becoming hard to find, although fast food outlets such as McDonalds do offer free Wi-Fi in the cities.

Media

As a result of its political and linguistic divide, Belgium has two separate public broadcasting organisations: the Dutch-speaking VRT and French-speaking RTBF, each with its own regulations. Cable services, such as Telenet and Belgacom, offer dozens of domestic and foreign channels, including BBC and BBC2. The Bulletin and Agenda are English-language magazines published weekly in Brussels. New Europe and European Voice are English-language papers focusing on EU news. Films are shown in English (marked OV) with Dutch and French subtitles, as well as dubbed French (marked as VF). Country-wide cinema listings can be found at www.cinenews.be.

Post

Belgium’s national postal service, bpost (www.bpost.be) became public in June 2013. Airmail takes two to three days to reach other west European destinations. Stamps can be bought at post offices, supermarkets, hotels, campsites, service stations and souvenir shops.

Post Office hours

Hours can vary.

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