Import regulations and 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.
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 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
Transportation of goods
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.
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).