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Import regulations and customs duties  - Distribution - Transportation of goods - Standards - Patents and brands

Import regulations and customs duties

In accordance with its European Union membership, Belgium applies the European Union (EU) rules that are in force in all European Union countries. While the EC has a rather liberal foreign trade policy, there is certain number of restrictions, especially on farm products, following the implementation of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy): the application of compensations on import and export of farm products, aimed at favouring the development of agriculture within the EC, implies a certain number of control and regulation systems for the goods entering the EU territory.
Moreover, for sanitary reasons, regarding Genetically Modified Organisms (after being allowed in the European territory), their presence should be systematically specified on packaging. The beef cattle bred on hormones is also forbidden to import.
The ESB crisis (often called the "mad cow disease") urged the European Authorities to strengthen the phytosanitary measures to make sure of the quality of meats entering and circulating in the EU territory. The principle of precaution is now widespread: in case of doubt, the import is prohibited until proof is made of the non-harmfulness of products.


Customs duties
Since the first of January 1993, the European Union, of which Belgium is part, has been a single market, without any customs barriers, which ensures free circulation of goods. On May, 1st of 2004, ten "candidate countries" became new members of the European Union: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia. Trade within the European Union is totally free from customs duties, provided that the merchandises' country of origin is one of the 25 European Union Member States. Nevertheless, when introducing merchandises into Belgium, exporters shall fill in an intrastat declaration.

When the country of origin of the merchandises which are exported to Belgium is not part of the European Union, customs duties are calculated Ad valorem on the CIF value of the goods, in accordance with the Common Customs Tariff (CCT).

The duties for non-European countries are relatively low, especially for manufactured goods (4.2% on average for the general rate); however textile, clothing items (high duties and quota system) and food-processing industry sectors (average duties of a 17.3% and numerous tariff quotas, PAC) still know protective measures.
In order to get exhaustive regulations and customs tariffs rates regarding their products, exporters shall refer to the TARIC code and its database, which includes all applicable customs duties and all customs trade policy measures for all the goods.

Moreover, many bilateral and multilateral agreements have been signed by the European Union, in order to define specific customs duties with the following countries:

- Customs agreements with Australia, Canada, United States, Mexico and South Korea.

- The EU-EFTA (European Free Trade Association) Agreement was signed in 1972 with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

- Free trade agreements with Bulgaria and Romania that hope join European Union in 2007.

- Mediterranean Agreements, concerning: Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria.

- The ACP agreements, with 95% of the tariff lines with a 0% rate for developing countries in Africa, Caribbean Islands and Pacific. The Cotonou Agreement, signed in the year 2000, defines the new EU-ACP partnership.

- The Generalised System of Preferences (GSP): 54% of the tariff lines are at 0% for developing countries outside the ACP framework.

To get an exhaustive list of the foreign trade agreements of the European Union, click here.

>> To get further information on customs policies in the European Union, please check the exhaustive report by the European Commission.


Import taxes
Excise duties are also levied on certain products, especially on spirit.

>> To get further information on the V.A.T. rates in Belgium, please check the list of vat rates applied within the European Union, as well as the VAT rates 2002 report.

>> More detailed information on excise duties is available concerning alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, energy products on the European Commission website.



There is stiff competition within the Belgian market. This is due to the fact that Belgium is amazingly open to foreign trade. Added to a sophisticated system of distribution, it turns Belgium into a test market, where many foreign companies launch new products. The high level of competition has achieved the fundamental requirements of good quality and service (such as timely deliveries, good after-sales service, quick disposal of complaints etc.), The main geographic zones of the country are Brussels, Antwerp and Liege.
The average payment term quoted by the Belgian companies is 47 to 48 days (the shortest in Europe after the Netherlands, where it is 28 to 29 days).

The Business to Consumer (B to C) market
The distribution of foodstuff is characterised by a high level of concentration (a few chains with many selling points especially for Delhaize and less importantly for Colruyt), and by a strong development of the co-operation among the distributors (independent distributors' co-operatives, franchisings, purchase integrated associations).
The distribution of other consumer goods, on the contrary, is better carried out through specialised traditional retailers, so much that in recent years chains of branches, often auto-serviced, with diversified products have appeared on the market. It is also characterised by the increasing part of the "non food" distribution in hypermarkets and, in a lesser way, of department stores (Inno).
The pride for Belgian distributors is the GB group which manages a union of distribution companies, grouped around four sectors: super and hypermarkets together with CARREFOUR, do-it-yourself, fast foods, specialised distribution.

The Business to Business (B to B) market
The distribution of capital goods is based on an adequate network of dealers and agents.


Transportation of goods

By road
Belgium contains 15,730 km of roads, of which 1,660 km are highways (lit and tolls free) and 12,720 km of main roads. In 1999, the Belgian roads handled about 350 million tons of goods converting into 42.5 billions tons/km.
Belgium signed the TIR agreement. In order to move on Belgian highways (also on Luxembourg's, the Netherlands', Denmark's and Germany's), the industrial vehicles weighing more than 12 tons should carry a daily, weekly, monthly or annual "euro logo", for which the price may vary from 6 (daily price) to 1, 250 Euros (annual price) for vehicles having 4 or more axles.

By rail
There are 3,410 km of railways, mainly managed by the national company NMBS-SNCB; in 1999, trains transported 7,392 million
In order to operate a competitive recovery, a ten-year plan of reorganisation and investments, named Objective 2000" was approved in 1996. It involves a BEF 370.3 billion budget, of which 70 % was assigned for the infrastructure and 30 % for rolling stock. A new plan is being drafted.
In November, 1994, the high speed Eurostar line between Brussels and London was introduced. In June, 1996, the high speed connection between Geneve-Paris-Bruxelles-Köln-Amsterdam, with the Thalys train started its operation.

By sea
The main ports are Antwerp, Gent, Ostend. Antwerp is by far the most important Belgian port and is ranked second in Europe. In 1999, 15 500 vessels operated there, carrying a total of 197 million raw tons. Also in 1999, the port of Antwerp handled 3,600,000 TEU (this figure has been constantly growing since 1975).

By air
The main airports are Brussels, Ostend, Liège, Antwerp and Charleroi.


In Belgium, co-ordination between research and work on normalisation is handled by the Belgian Institute of Normalization (BIN-IBN), which is also in charge of providing information about standards and technical regulations. It does so using the services of its CIBELNOR branch, an ISONET's member. The BIN-IBN was also designated by the European Commission to be the main contact point in order to facilitate bilateral and multilateral agreements intended to eliminate technical barriers concerning certification and control. The BIN-IBN is a non-profit association under the Ministry of Economy.
In Belgium, as in any other country, it is necessary to separate the compulsory rules from the voluntary certification. It is necessary to distinguish the EU rules from Belgium ones. The European statutory standards, although compulsory, guarantee the European Union's directives, and are published in Belgium by the BIN-IBN, under the abbreviation NBN.
A reduced number of sectors (foodstuffs, pharmaceutical, public sector's purchased goods), are managed under the Belgian general rule, which require an approval process.
Finally, in order to be competitive, it is important to hold either Belgian or foreign recognised-quality brands, or ISO 9000 standards.
Belgian organisms involved in the process of certification, have to be accredited by the Ministry of Economy through the National Council of accreditation and certification, and dependant systems of accreditation Beltest (accreditation of the laboratories and control bodies), OBE (accreditation of the grading laboratories ) and BELCERT (accreditation of quality systems certificates, products and professional persons).

Patents and brands

Belgium is part of the agreement of Paris for the industrial protection and the agreement establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
With regards to trademarks, quite particularly, a single registration to the The Benelux Trademarks Office (BTO) enables to protect these trademarks at the same time in Luxembourg, Belgium and in the Netherlands.

Texts currently applying to patents/brands

  Text Date entered into law Period of validity Comment
Trademark Trademark Law 1980 10 years renewable if they are put on the market within 5 years.
Trademark Agreement of Madrid - 10 years


Last modified in 2006 - ongoing update
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