Posted: April 1, 2012 |  AUTHOR: KEN FOX | CONTACT ME


Belgium was one of the original six members (along with France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and The Netherlands) which started to unite Europe economically, with the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950. This evolved into the European Economic Community which became the European Union (EU) in November 1993. Along with Belgium, there are other quiet EU members such as The Netherlands, Denmark, Malta, Sweden, Estonia, etc. that are not in the news everyday. However, little Belgium, with a population of only 10.8 million people (2011) and 11,787 square miles, is a key country for the EU and Europe in general. Two of the four* institutions that operate the EU are based in Brussels:
1. Council of the European Union-has 27 representatives, one from each EU member country ; purportedly the most powerful EU decision making body.
2. European Commission- has 27 members, one from each EU member country. Their goal is to think EU. It acts as the administrative branch of the EU, “guardian of the treaties,” and administers the EU’s annual budget.

NATO also is based in Brussels. The UN has 25 agencies represented in Brussels (including: UNESCO, International Labor Organization, Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS, WHO, etc.). The Director of the UN Office in Brussels is the representative of the UN Secretary-General to the EU.

The languages spoken in Belgium are: Dutch—60%, French 40%
and German, less than 1%. The country’s major exports include: machinery and equipment, chemicals, finished diamonds, metals and foodstuffs. I think of exported Belgian chocolate as wonderful.
Belgium’s GDP was growing nicely until the global economic crisis hit, but seems to be recovering slowly.

What’s interesting to me about Belgium is its business activity and their seaports.

• Foreign Direct Investment in Belgium made an impression in 2010, obviously helped by InBev’s $52 billion acquisition of Anheuser Busch in July 2008.

• InBev, a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch In-Bev, is based in Leuven, Belgium, and owns over 200 brands of beer, including names like: Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob, Stella Artois, Beck’s, Skol, Brahma, Harbin, Leffe, Siberian Crown and many others. It has operations in over 30 countries, and generates sales in over 130 countries. It owns a 50% operating equity in Group Modelo in Mexico, which produces the successful Corona beer brand.

• Agfa-Gavaert is based in Mostel, Belgium and has manufacturing plants in 10 countries, with three business groups: graphics, healthcare and specialty products.

• The pharmaceutical industry is well represented in Belgium with headquarters of:

a. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, based in Beerse, a division of Johnson & Johnson. They manufacture products with brands, such as: Risperdal, Livostin, and the OTC brand: Imodium
b. Solvay SA, founded in 1863, is now owned by Abbott since Sept. 2009. The company acquired a French chemical company Rhodia in April 2011.
c. UCB, based in Brussels, was founded in 1928 as a chemical and small pharmaceutical company. UCB developed a blockbuster drug, Zyrtecca. UCB acquired a German pharmaceutical company called Schwartz in 2007, which allowed UCB to introduce the drug Nevpro, delivered in a transderrmal patch for treating Parkinson’s disease.

The Port of Antwerp is the second largest port in Europe, after Rotterdam, in terms of total freight shipped. It is unique because the port is inland (80 klms) and enjoys a more central location in Europe than the majority of Northern European seaports. The port handles the largest ships. It recently received the world’s largest container ship; the Edith Maersk, which has a capacity of 15,000 TEUs.**

Belgium is involved in assisting other countries to optimize their seaports, including agreements to help make foreign ports “greener” or cleaner. Several agreements include:
• On December 7, 2011 The Port of Antwerp agreed to collaborate in developing the Port of San Pedro in Cote d’Ivoire (West Africa). San Pedro is the largest “cacao” port in the world. The Port of Antwerp will help San Pedro in drawing up a master plan over the next few years.
• India, which has 13 major and 176 non major seaports, has signed agreements with the ports in Belgium. Many Indian maritime officials attend training seminars near Antwerp.
• An MOU (Memo of Understanding) has been signed between the Port of Chennai (in Southeast India) and the Belgian Port of Zeebrugge to help Chennai become a clean port. Apparently, the Port of Zeebrugge has successfully transitioned from handling “dirty cargo” such as coal and iron ore to containers, cars and “clean cargo.”
• Several Belgian companies are helping India to dredge (deepen) their ports to be able to handle post Panamax ships. Indian cities where Belgian companies are helping in this regard include: Cochin, Tuticorin, Ennore and Kolkatta.

Belgium’s strategic location, successful commerce, center for EU governance and favorable business environment will continue to attract more Foreign Direct Investment. Its strong pharmaceutical and biotech industries have thrived, in part, because of qualified manpower, the lowest tax rate in Europe on revenues from patents and Belgium’s favorable quality of life as a place to live.

*The other two organizations controlling the EU are The European Parliament, based in Strasbourg, France, and the European Court of Justice, based in Luxembourg. The European Central Bank is based in Frankfurt, Germany.

**TEU=twenty foot container equivalent, a unit of cargo capacity; one TEU represents the cargo capacity of a standard intermodal container 20 feet (6.1 m) long and 8 feet (2.44 m) wide.

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