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Exporting to Belgium: What You Need to Know

On: July 8, 2024    |    By: David Noah David Noah    |    10 min. read

Belgium flag on a roof. Exporting to Belgium: what you need to know | Shipping Solutions

Home to the “Capital of Europe” and located midway between France, Germany and the United Kingdom, Belgium enjoys one of the highest per capita incomes in the region, an extremely well-educated workforce and widely distributed purchasing power among its residents. As such, it is a must-consider destination for U.S. exporters.

Belgium is a highly developed, long-time economic partner of the U.S. with world-renowned research centers and the infrastructure to support a broad range of economic activities. In this article, I’ll look at the history of U.S. trade with Belgium; the process of exporting to Belgium, including documentation and compliance requirements; and the benefits and considerations for U.S. companies looking to break into the Belgian marketplace.

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History, Trade and Exporting to Belgium

Suffering under German occupation during World Wars I and II, the Belgian public holds goodwill and affection for Americans due to the United States’ role during and after these conflicts, including Belgium’s liberation by British, Canadian and U.S. forces in 1944.

In the 80 years since, Belgium has become a modern, technologically advanced European state and a member of NATO and the European Union (EU). It serves as the host country of the EU and NATO headquarters and plays an important role in European and Transatlantic diplomacy.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Belgium’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was nearly $624.25 billion in 2023, with real GDP growth of 0.7%. Distinguished by its major port, Antwerp-Bruges—the second-largest port in Europe—and first-class logistical infrastructure, a significant portion of bilateral trade either originates in, or is destined for, other countries in Europe.

According to the Belgian Foreign Trade Agency, the U.S. ranked as Belgium’s fourth principal non-European Union export destination in 2022, with Belgium exporting $37.28 billion of goods and services to the U.S. The U.S. ranked as Belgium’s fifth-largest supplier of goods and services, with Belgium importing $37.01 billion of goods and services.

Exporting to Belgium: The Challenges

Belgian policy poses relatively few formal barriers to U.S. trade or investment. Any market challenges that do exist are likely related to being part of the EU and are felt by all member states of the EU. According to the U.S. International Trade Administration (ITA), U.S. exporters may experience the following challenges:

  • The Belgian regions of Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels have distinct economic identities and business cultures.
  • Despite its size, the Belgian market can be complex. Political competences in Belgium are shared between the federal government, its three regions, and the Dutch, French and German linguistic communities. Most regulations impacting the business environment (taxes, labor market, energy) are controlled at the federal level. However, environmental regulations and trade and investment promotion policies are developed mostly at the regional level.

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Exporting to Belgium: The Opportunities

Belgium’s diversity makes it an ideal market for many U.S. firms to test their products before expanding distribution throughout Europe. In many situations, the potential rewards of exporting to Belgium outweigh any challenges exporters may face. Exporters should identify and cultivate business opportunities while building a strategy to minimize the risks.

Leading sectors in Belgium for U.S. exports and investments include:

  • Software and IT
  • Plastics
  • Food and beverage
  • Business services
  • Engineering and metal products
  • Motor vehicle assembly
  • Transportation equipment
  • Scientific instruments
  • Chemicals
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Base metals
  • Textiles
  • Glass
  • Petroleum

As the host of NATO and EU headquarters and hundreds of other international organizations, Belgium also offers opportunities for specific projects on a case-by-case basis.

Export Assistance

If you’re interested in exploring export opportunities in this region, there are plenty of resources you can lean on for help, including U.S. Commercial Service offices, trade missions and chambers of commerce.

U.S. Commercial Service Offices

One of the first places to consider are your local and in-country U.S. Commercial Service offices. Commercial Service in-country offices effectively serve as your business partners in Belgium—boots on the ground in the country. Commercial service offices also include representation by an agent, distributors or partners who can provide essential local knowledge and contacts that are crucial to your success.

You can learn more about in-country offices in our article, Tapping into the U.S. Commercial Service's In-Country Offices.

District Export Councils (DECs)

DECs across the country help exporters by supporting trade and services that strengthen individual companies, stimulate U.S. economic growth and create jobs. DEC members also serve as mentors to new exporters and provide advice to smaller companies.

Trade Missions

Sponsored by state and local trade offices as well as commercial service offices, trade missions offer introductions to important contacts and networking opportunities. Check into them.

International Trade Administration

The ITA is an excellent resource to help you combat trade problems. ITA staff members are resident experts in advocating for U.S. businesses of all sizes. They customize their services to help solve your trade dilemmas as efficiently as possible. Plus, the ITA makes it easy to report a problem, allowing you to submit your report online.

Chambers of Commerce

Chambers of Commerce may also be a resource when exporting to Belgium. You can learn more about various chambers and how they can help smooth the way for your export activities in our article, The Chamber of Commerce Role in Exporting.

Export Document Requirements for Belgium

Accurate export documentation and attention to procedures are as critical in exporting to Belgium as they are for exporting to any other country. An import license is not needed to import the majority of industrial goods into the EU; however, some industrial goods require import licenses issued by the Import Licensing Branch (ILB) as a result of controls imposed at national, EU and United Nations levels.

Make sure you're using the right export documents. Download the free  Beginner's Guide to Export Forms.

Export Compliance Issues When Exporting to Belgium

It’s important to understand the regulations covering exports to Belgium, especially export controls.

Product Classification for Export Controls

The first step in ensuring export compliance is determining who has jurisdiction over your goods: the U.S. Department of Commerce under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) or the State Department's International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

If your goods fall under the jurisdiction of the Commerce Department—which most products do—you must determine if your export requires authorization from the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS, part of the Commerce Department). To make that determination, first answer the following questions:

  • What is the Export Control Classification Number (ECCN) of the item?
  • Where is it going?
  • Who is the end user?
  • What is the end use?

There are three ways to classify your products for export controls: You can self-classify your products, submit a SNAP-R request for a ruling, or rely on the product vendor to provide the information. Learn about that process in our article, Export Codes: ECCN vs. HS, HTS and Schedule B. By classifying your product correctly, you’ll be protecting yourself from potential fines, penalties and even jail time.

Export License Determination

Next, companies must use the ECCN codes and reasons for control described above to determine whether or not there are any restrictions for exporting their products to specific countries. Once they know why their products are controlled, exporters should refer to the Commerce Country Chart in the EAR to determine if a license is required.

Download the free whitepaper: How to Determine If You Need an Export License

Although a relatively small percentage of all U.S. exports and re-exports require a BIS license, virtually all exports and many re-exports to embargoed destinations and countries designated as supporting terrorist activities require a license. Countries fitting that bill are Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria.

Part 746 of the EAR describes embargoed destinations and refers to certain additional controls imposed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Treasury Department.

Shipping Solutions Professional export documentation and compliance software includes an Export Compliance Module that uses the ECCN code for your product(s) and the destination country to tell you if an export license is required. If indicated, you must apply to BIS for an export license through the online Simplified Network Application Process Redesign (SNAP-R) before you can export your products.

There are export license exceptions, like low-value or temporary exports, that allow you to export or re-export, under stated conditions, items subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) that would otherwise require a license. These license exceptions cover items that fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce, not items controlled by the State Department or some other agency.

Deemed Exports

Surprise! You may be an exporter without even knowing it! Deemed exports, or the disclosure of information or services rather than an actual product, is an important issue to pay attention to when exporting. A deemed export occurs when technology or source code (except encryption and object source code, which is separately addressed in the EAR, is released to a foreign national within the United States.

Sharing technology, reviewing blueprints, conducting tours of facilities, and other information disclosures are considered potential exports under the deemed export rule and should be handled accordingly. You can learn how to apply this principle here.

Restricted Party Screenings

Restricted party lists (also called denied party lists) are lists of organizations, companies or individuals that various U.S. agencies—and other foreign governments—have identified as parties that one can’t do business with. There are several reasons why a person or company may be added to a restricted party list. For example, they may be a terrorist organization or affiliated with such an organization; they may have a history of corrupt business practices; or they may otherwise pose a threat to national security.

Restricted party screening (or denied party screening) refers to the process in which a company checks a potential customer or business partner against one or more of the restricted party lists to ensure their potential partners are legally accepted. The primary restricted party lists in the United States are published by the Department of Commerce, Department of State, and Department of Treasury. However, several other agencies produce lists as well. These agencies recommend that companies perform restricted party screening periodically and repeatedly throughout the movement of goods in the supply chain. (You can do this quickly, and easily with Restricted Party Screening Software.)

When exporting to Belgium, it’s imperative you check every single restricted party list every time you export because:

  • Fines for export violations can reach up to $1 million per violation in criminal cases.
  • Administrative cases can result in a penalty amounting to $250,000 or twice the value of the transaction, whichever is greater.
  • Criminal violators may be sentenced to prison for up to 20 years, and administrative penalties may include denial of export privileges.

Export Documentation and Compliance Software

If you’re considering exporting to Belgium, Shipping Solutions export documentation software can help you quickly create the necessary documents and stay compliant with export regulations. Register for a free demo of Shipping Solutions software to see how it will revolutionize the way you’re currently creating your export paperwork.

This is one in a series of articles exploring exporting to specific countries across the globe—we previously featured China, the United Kingdom, Japan, Mexico, Canada, India, Brazil, Germany, France, the Netherlands, the EU, South Korea, and Singapore.

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David Noah

About the Author: David Noah

David Noah is the founder and president of Shipping Solutions, the #1 selling export documentation software that develops and sells export documentation and compliance software targeted at U.S. companies that export. David is a frequent speaker on export documentation and compliance issues and has published several articles on the topic.

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