Division of powers
1. Institutional framework
The Institutional Reform Act of 8 August 1988 states that Belgium’s three Regions are responsible for determining policy with regard to foreign markets and exports, without prejudice to any national policy to coordinate and promote foreign trade and to cooperate in that area.
Regional bodies promoting foreign trade were established in the early 1990s: the Walloon export agency, AWEX, in February 1990, the Flemish export agency Export Vlaanderen and Brussels Export (in January and August 1991 respectively).
The Saint Michel agreements in 1992, applied by the special law of 16 July 1993, set out the regional organisation of the Foreign Trade Fund and of economic and trade attachés.
The special law of 13 July 2001 stipulates two things:
- the regional organisation of policy on foreign markets and exports, except in the following areas:
i. the awarding of guarantees against export, import and investment risks (Finexpo and the National Delcredere Office);
ii. multilateral trade policy.
- the cooperation agreement concluded on 24 May 2002 established the Belgian Foreign Trade Agency (ACE/ABH) which superseded the Belgian Foreign Trade Office (OBCE/BDBH). Unlike the latter, the Agency for Foreign Trade is not answerable to the federal minister for foreign trade. The agency focuses on organising multiregional economic missions (4 every year) and documentation.
2. Practical aspects
The Federal Public Service Economic Affairs, SMEs, Self-Employed and Energy
- has a ‘welcome service’ for foreign investors which distributes an investors’ guide, maintains the website Invest in Belgium and provides updates on European regulations (single market infodesk) and administrative formalities applying to investors;
- coordinates the interministerial unit (FPS Economic Affairs and FPS Foreign Affairs) of the federal authorities, the regional authorities responsible for the investments. This unit meets every month to assess the investment climate.
The Federal Public Service Finance
- draws up bilateral agreements together with the FPS Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation on the mutual safeguarding of investments and agreements designed to avoid double taxation;
- acts as the secretariat for Finexpo, the interministerial committee providing aid for Belgian exports and looking into the possibilities for awarding public funds for export credits. The Finexpo Committee meets once a month. Its financial instruments are mechanisms to stabilise interest rates, the awarding of preferential interest rates, interest credits plus complementary donations, and state-to-state loans.
The Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation
- regulates multilateral (WTO, OECD) and European trade policy. Belgium is continuing to call for the greater liberalisation of international trade, while at the same time focusing on certain values that our society deems essential, namely cultural diversity, social protection, food safety and environmental protection;
- acts as the secretariat for Finexpo, the interministerial committee providing aid for Belgian exports and looking into the possibilities for awarding public funds for export credits. The Finexpo Committee meets once a month. Its financial instruments are mechanisms to stabilise interest rates, the awarding of preferential interest rates, interest credits plus complementary donations, and state-to-state loans;
- chairs the Advisory Committee on the allocation of subsidies to promote exports. These subsidies are aimed at Belgian chambers of commerce and industry abroad, and mixed chambers of commerce and business clubs in Belgium;
- selects advisors on foreign trade and honorary consuls.
Created in 2003, the ACE/ABH organises joint trade missions and arranges, develops and distributes information, studies and documentation concerning foreign markets. The agency is destined to become a key information centre for regional foreign trade organisations.
The agency is no longer under the supervision of the federal minister for foreign trade.
The National Delcredere Office is an autonomous body guaranteed by the Belgian government. It promotes international economic relations, mainly by covering export-, import- and foreign-investment-related risks.
The office also has the authority to cover foreign exchange risks and transit transactions, to help to guarantee transit operations, to intervene in the funding of exports, and to perform any technical, financial or representational mission conferred upon it by the Belgian government on the latter’s behalf. The safeguards it provides apply mainly to non-OECD markets.
The BMI/SBI provides long-term co-financing for foreign investment by Belgian companies. It operates all over the world and its activities are geared towards setting up new joint-ventures or subsidiaries and acquiring, restructuring and developing existing companies.