Economic studies
Belgium

Belgium

Population 11.2 million
GDP 47,682 US$
A2
Country risk assessment
A1
Business Climate
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Synthesis

major macro economic indicators

  2013 2014 2015(f)  2016(f)
GDP growth (%) 0.0 1.3 1.4 1.2
Inflation (yearly average) (%) 1.2 0.5 0.6 1.2
Budget balance (% GDP) -2.9 -3.1 -2.6 -2.3
Current account balance (% GDP) 1.0 0.8 1.8 2.0
Public debt (% GDP) 105.1 106.7 107.0 107.0

 

(f) Forecast

STRENGTHS

  • Ideally located between the United Kingdom, Germany and France
  • Presence of European institutions, international organisations and global groups
  • The ports of Antwerp (2nd busiest in Europe) and Zeebrugge, canals and motorways
  • Low household debt levels (56% of GDP)
  • Well-qualified workforce on account of vocational training
  • Net external creditor position 

WEAKNESSES

  • Political and financial tensions between Flanders and Wallonia
  • Exports concentrated on intermediate products and the European Union
  • High structural unemployment
  • High public debt
  • Tight housing market 

RISK ASSESSMENT

 

Modest growth

Growth is expected to remain modest in 2016. The contribution of external trade is expected to shift from being negative to slightly positive. Exports (82% of GDP), made up to a great extent of intermediate products, machines and transport equipment, will benefit from another drop in the real, effective exchange rate linked to the depreciation of the euro and lower production costs. They will also profit from a modest advance in growth in the neighbouring countries and the buoyant UK market. As for imports, with low commodity prices and softer domestic demand, these will slow. Despite rising private sector employment, household consumption is also expected to slow, with households facing wage moderation and a freeze on wage indexation until the end of 2016, higher taxes and a cut in public-sector jobs but, because of its importance to the economy (52% of GDP), this will still be the main driver of growth. Business investment will continue to be sustained by easy access to cheap credit, increasing capacity utilisation rates, as well as improving price competitiveness.

 

Slow fiscal consolidation and transfer of charges from labour to consumption

The public debt exceeds GDP, which is reflected in an interest burden equivalent to almost 3% of GDP, despite low interest rates. The authorities want to both bring down the cost of the debt by cutting the overall deficit and, as a priority, transfer levies on labour to consumption. The fiscal effort is expected to represent 0.75% of GDP in 2016-2017, chiefly through better spending control by refilling only one job in five to achieve a 10% reduction in the wage bill in five years' time, by reducing investment loans by 20% and toughening the eligibility criteria for welfare payments the revaluation of which is currently frozen. Employers’ social security contributions are destined to represent only 25% of the wage bill compared with 33% at present. SMEs are likely to benefit from substantial financial support. In the context of low input costs and lower levies, business margins should rise and the number of insolvencies should continue the downward trend begun in 2014. Household income tax for low and middle incomes is expected to fall by EUR100 a month. All these tax cuts are due to be financed by increased taxes on fuel, alcohol, tobacco and fizzy drinks. The reduced rate of tax on domestic electricity consumption is likely to be abolished, taking it up from 6 to 21%. The tax on dividends will rise from 25% to 27% and a levy of 33% will be introduced on the sales of securities held for less than 6 months. However, how the effort to be made regarding the budget restructuring will be shared between the Federal state and the regions remains unclear. Meanwhile, the 43 billion euro Belgian government guarantee in the context of the Dexia orderly resolution plan, whose role is currently limited to the custody of undervalued or illiquid assets (loans to local authorities and sovereign bonds) until maturity, is a threat.

 

A recovery of price competitiveness

The trade in goods deficit, which appeared in 2008, turned into a surplus in 2015 (amounting to 1.3% of GDP). This is explained by dynamic exports, which are benefitting from improved price competitiveness. Since 2014, labour productivity has been rising, while the cost of labour has been falling, bringing to an end a decade of lost competitiveness and market share, in particular on the European markets. Planned tax transfers should reinforce this trend. Services will continue to run a surplus, thanks to IT, telecommunications, royalties, transport and trade. Because of its position at the heart of Europe and with its ports providing easy access to its markets, Belgium plays a major role in the re-export of goods destined for or arriving from its neighbours. Substantial investments held abroad by Belgian economic players generate considerable income, which offsets transfers by foreign workers and the net contribution to the European budget. Finally, the current account balance is in surplus.

 

A government dominated by Flemish parties and focused on the economy

Since October 2014, the country has been governed by a centre-right coalition, dominated by the Flemish parties, made up of the conservative Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA), the leading party in Flanders and at the federal level, the Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams (CD&V) and the Open Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten (open VLD), headed by Prime Minister Charles Michel from the French-speaking Mouvement réformateur. The socialist party, the main French-speaking political force, is in opposition. So as not to upset its partners and the majority of the population, the N-VA has toned down its wish to abolish the Brussels-Capital region and marginalise the Federal State, which retains, in addition to its sovereign powers, most social spending including pensions and health spending, i.e. about half of public spending, as well as financial oversight, competition, collection of the main taxes and the mechanism for index-linking incomes. The government's focus is on the economy. 

 

 

 

Last update : January 2016

Payment

Bank transfers(SEPA & SWIFT) andelectronic paymentsare the means of payment most used by companies.

Thechequerepresents less than 0.5% of payment transactions in Belgium (private consumers and businesses).  Cheques are still issued in fairly limited cases and in some sectors (wholesale trade in fruit and vegetables, transport companies, etc.).

They no longer benefit from the bank guarantee previously acquired.

The account of the cheque issuer must therefore have sufficient funds when the cheque is cashed.

Issuing an uncovered cheque is punishable by law.

Thebill of exchangeis almost no longer used as a means of payment in Belgium, but is still used in international transactions and in some sectors.

The issuer of the bill of exchange (the drawer, the customer) unconditionally guarantees the lawful bearer (supplier, bank) that a person named in the security (the drawee) will pay him a stated amount (the amount stated in the bill of exchange) on a certain date (on maturity) or demand, i.e., upon presentation thereof.

The Letter of credit isexclusively used in international business transactions.

 

Debt collection

  1. A.     The debtor is not insolvent (or equivalent procedure)

1. The debtor will generally be summoned by the creditor before the court to hear the case.

The subject-matter and territorial jurisdiction of the courts are governed by law.

However, the parties may waive the territorial jurisdiction of the court by inserting a jurisdiction attribution clause in the general terms and conditions of sale or stipulate that the dispute will be submitted to an arbitration body.

The law on the use of languages also defines the territorial jurisdiction of the court based on the location of the head office of one of the parties or the place where the parties' obligations must be performed.

Proceedings are carried out in the presence of all the parties, except for unilateral proceedings for an order to pay.

In principle, the judgment will be delivered within 30 days from the date of deliberation of the case , which takes place at the end of the hearing. The judgment will be rendered by default if the debtor is not present or represented during the proceedings.

The recovery is governed by the following contractual and/or legal provisions:

1. The general terms and conditions of sale of one of the parties (usually those of the creditor), which are legally binding on the parties.

2. The law of 21 April 2007 (MB 31/05/2007) on the entitlement to claim back fees and legal costs.

This law, which came into force on 1st January 2008, stipulates that the procedural indemnity is a fixed contribution to the fees and expenses of the counsel for the successful party.

3. The European Directive of 16 February 2011 on combating late payment in commercial transactions. (Reform of the law of 2 August 2002 on combating late payment in commercial transactions)The reform aims to encourage companies and public authorities to adopt stricter discipline with regard to payments.

Furthermore, the directive stipulates that if the creditor has not received the payment within legal or contractually agreed payment periods, he is entitled to payment of interest.

The directive also provides compensation for recovery costs. The creditor who is entitled to obtain interest may receive a minimum payment of a fixed sum for the recovery costs, without any reminder being necessary and irrespective of proceedings or the assistance of a lawyer.

Besides this fixed sum, the creditor is entitled to reasonable compensation for all other recovery costs that may have been incurred due to a late payment including the procedural indemnity in accordance with the provisions of the Belgian Judicial Code.

 

The directive has been transposed into Belgian Law by the law of 22nd November 2013 (MB/10/12/2013)

 

2. Order to pay proceedings.

The order is introduced on the basis of a unilateral application. The Judge renders his judgment within 30 days after the application is filed without having heard the parties.

Two possibilities:

-The Judge acknowledges completely  the request of the creditor. The debtor then has a period of one month from service of the decision to lodge an objection. If not, the order to pay is final.

If, however, the debtor lodges an objection, the case will be reassigned to the court, which will then make a judgment.

The creditor or the debtor, who has his application dismissed, may appeal within one month from service comprising the order to pay.

-The Judge can partially or fully dismiss the creditor. In this case, the law does not allow the possibility of an appeal or objection.

 

3. Retention of title clause.

This is a contractual provision stipulating that the seller retains title until full payment by the debtor.

The unpaid creditor may make a claim on the goods kept by the debtor.

The principle of enforceability of retention of title clauses foreseen in the Bankruptcy law of 8 August 1997 (effective as of 1 January 1998) is now part of the Belgian Civil Code (new Articles 69et seq.)

It is therefore appropriate to conclude that the retention of title clause is enforceable in all situations of creditors bearing the loss arising from insolvency (see below Bankruptcy/Judicial Reorganisation) and this, whatever the nature of the underlying contract.

When the goods sold under retention of title are converted into a debt (e.g. after a sale), the seller-owner's right refers to this debt (e.g. selling price). This is  called real subrogation.

  1. B.     The debtor is insolvent (or equivalent proceedings)

1. The debtor can be declared bankrupt (law of 8 August 1997) if he experiences continuous difficulties (payment default and collapse in credit.)

By the bankruptcy judgment all outstanding debts become due immediately.

Once the bankruptcy judgment is pronounced, the creditor is no longer entitled to receive payment from the debtor.

The retention of title clause can be used by the creditor to claim his property.

2. The debtor may also seek the benefit of application of the law of 31 January 2009 (effective as of 1 April 2009) on Business Continuity if experiencing temporary difficulties.

This law replaces the former Belgian law on judicial arrangement with creditors.

This law proposes pre-procedural measures and the actual judicial reorganisation procedure itself.

The purpose of the latter is to preserve, under the supervision of a delegated judge, the continuity of a company in difficulty. The debtor makes a reasoned application to the Commercial Court in order to be granted an extended period to pay the debt. This extended period is normally set at six months, a period during which the debtor must propose a reorganisation plan to all of its creditors.

Outstanding creditors, i.e. those whose claim arose before the commencement of the extended period cannot begin any execution procedure for the sale of real estate or personal estate of the debtor.

In accordance with the foregoing, the outstanding creditor could request enforcement of his retention of title clause.

However, the extended period is not an obstacle to the voluntary payment of the outstanding creditors or of some of them by the debtor.

However, the extended period does not release co-debtors and guarantors of their obligations.

Insolvency trend Belgium
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