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As we head towards a ‘Brussels summer’ and our team are putting together the autumn events agenda, we’re looking forward to seeing all of you after the break. I just want to take a brief moment to say thank you to the team who have helped us put together the programme so far and will be leaving over the summer to either newer pastures or back to their studies. Robbert Dekker, Operations & Strategy Executive left at the end of June to be an independent CRM Consultant, James Pearson, Business & Trade Executive leaves us in mid-August as he moves to Montreal and we want to say thank you to them for all the hard work they have put into the chamber over the last few years and wish them lots of luck with their new challenges ahead!

Our work is supported by some truly wonderful interns who will all be finishing their terms with us over the summer.  Thanks to Dersim Rosa Karadag, Tom Pickup and Danny Owen who have continued developing the programme for the EU Committee and developing the communications/putting together our Members Directory/Annual Report. We wish them luck in their final year at university. Thanks to Clément Staner and Claudia Gherman on the Business Development side supporting James and developing the programme further over the last few months and also thanks to Trang Nguyen for making our financial systems make sense to rest of the team and keeping us in check!

We’ll have plenty of new faces joining us over the summer and we look forward to you all meeting them at the chamber offices in September.

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Have a great Summer!

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The British Chamber of Commerce works with a broad range of Accredited Service Providers to bring you the best professional advice for international businesses who are in or entering the Belgian market. This series aims to give you a bit of an insight into these companies; showcasing how they can help you develop your business. British Chamber members can book a free first consultation with any of our expert advisors.

We’ve been speaking to BNP Paribas Fortis on what they think the biggest issues are for business when joining the Belgian market.

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Which 3 questions should companies looking to do business in Belgium ask themselves?

You cannot enter a market without thoroughly analysing it first and having a clear idea of its main players and competitors. Which leads us quite nicely to the first question: What does my target market look like, and what are my market timing, KPIs and objectives going to be? Once you have answered this rather basic but essential question, you will need to determine how you are going to enter the market. Will you set out on your own, or do you appeal to a specialized partner to help you access the market more efficiently and reduce your time-to-market? Finally, you need to determine where in Belgium you will set up your business. Many factors will influence this decision, such as the exact nature of your activities, what federal or regional incentives may apply to your company, the need for logistical and transport hubs, the need to find qualified personnel, etc. And once again, it is important to decide in advance if you will make this choice alone or in concert with a partner familiar with local regulation, culture, business habits and recruitment.

What is one emerging trend in the business/regulatory environment which you would advise companies in or entering Belgium to be particularly proactive about?

Efforts continue apace to encourage entrepreneurship and attract foreign investors or companies. This is done in various ways, for instance by reducing or streamlining regulation, installing specific and advantageous tax systems, providing well-situated infrastructure and office space, investing in high-quality and internationally-oriented education, etc. All of these measures are intended to make it easier for your company to enter the Belgian market, but it will take some time and research to familiarize yourself with them.

Additionally, a great many aids and grants are available from federal and local authorities. We advise you to contact one of the dedicated investment agencies, such as the Brussels Enterprise Agency (BEA), Flanders Investment & Trade or the Office for Foreign Investors (OFI) in Wallonia , who will be more than happy to tell you which aids or incentives apply to your company.

Why is it important for new entrants in Belgium to speak with you

Most importantly, for a seamless continuation of service.  Thanks to BNP Paribas Fortis being part of a global group, both your mother company and your Belgian activities can work with a single bank and enjoy the same service offer. Put more concretely, your relationship manager in Belgium will be in contact with the British BNP Paribas team, allowing for a better understanding of your specific needs, central reporting and an effective service level.

Through us, you also have access to an extensive offering of digital banking services and innovative solutions covering all your banking and financing needs, including international cash management, global trade solutions, factoring, fleet management, expat services, etc. Wherever you decide to establish your subsidiary in Belgium, you will receive a dedicated relationship manager from a central corporate bankers team in Brussels or from one of 16 local business centres.

Last but not least, we are quite experienced in servicing Belgian subsidiaries of foreign groups, which explains why over 3,300 foreign groups have chosen us as their bank in Belgium.

If you’d like to organise a meeting with any of our Accredited Service Providers, or are interested in becoming one, get in touch with James Pearson – our Business & Trade Executive at james.pearson@britishchamber.be

The British Chamber of Commerce works with a broad range of Accredited Service Providers to bring you the best professional advice for international businesses who are in or entering the Belgian market. This series aims to give you a bit of an insight into these companies; showcasing how they can help you develop your business. British Chamber members can book a free first consultation with any of our expert advisors.

This week, our team spoke to Karelle Lambert – Senior Area Director for Europe at AWEX; the Wallonia Export & Investment Agency.

What are the top-4 questions companies looking to do business in Belgium should be asking?

 1. Why Belgium?

Belgium offers a market of 10 million consumers but our country should be considered as a launching platform for your export activities in Continental Europe.  Indeed, within 4 hour truck drive, you may reach 60 million consumers with a high purchasing power.

Belgium is a perfect assessment market. Belgium is often used a test market by large companies, such as Coca Cola or H&M, to test new products.   Considered as neutral, Belgium is the perfect location to reach European key markets.

2. What is the corporate tax level?

Nominative corporate tax level in Belgium is 33,99%.  However, due to numerous tax incentive measures, the average effective corporate tax level is  26,3%.

3. What is the availability and cost of real estate and labour force?

Belgium benefits from a cost-effective office and industrial areas market.  Belgium offers among the lowest prices in real estate in Europe.  The same trend applies for industrial building as well as for equipped greenfield lands in economic parks.  Availability of office, existing facilities and large greenfield plots is high in Belgium.

Prime education and the use of languages makes Belgium the perfect place to develop your international activities. Belgian universities and management schools, among the top worldwide ranking, offer high quality graduates on the market.

The Belgian Government has taken several measures in order to stimulate business environment:

The Tax Shift Law provides for a decrease of the employer social security contributions from 33% to 25%. Eurostat statistics already show that Belgium has a substantially lower rise of salary costs than the other countries.

As of the 1st of January 2016, the current reduction in social contributions related to first hirings were increased in two ways:

  • full exemption from employers’ contributions for the first hiring, unlimited in duration;
  • reduction in contributions for the six first hirings.

What is one emerging trend in the business/regulatory environment which you would advise companies in/entering Belgium to be particularly proactive about?

The business environment in Wallonia is enhanced through the new Marshall Plan 4.0 aiming at:

  • Considering Human capital as an asset and strengthening links between training and education,
  • Supporting the industry development, in a technological proactive perspective, including ever more and better SME’s,
  • Considering our territory as an essential resource for our economic development,
  • Supporting energy efficiency,
  • Supporting the digital innovation, integrating this new dimension within social and industrial practices.

Wallonia decided to strengthen its industrial policy and economic development through a clustering approach.  The Competitiveness clusters confirm the willingness to turn Wallonia into a competitive industrial area on a world-wide scale.  The clusters cover areas such as Transport & Logistics, Aeronautics & Aerospace, Sustainable & Eco construction, Green technologies, Energy & Sustainable development, Health & Biotech, Agro-food industry, ICT, Mechanical Engineering, Plastics processing, Digital industry.

Why is it important for new entrants in Belgium to speak with you?

Wallonia Export & Investment is the governmental organization taking care of Foreign Investors and we assure you of our total commitment to help you in your enquiries and steps to set up or develop in Belgium – Wallonia.  We may help you on different aspects including the search of real estate, information on the cash grants available in the Region, availability and costs of personnel, etc.  In short, investment and R&D grants, attractive fiscal measures, employment incentives are all available.  At any time, we may organize visits locally and have you meet key partners for your project. All our services are free of charge and treated confidentially.

If you’d like to organise a meeting with any of our Accredited Service Providers, or are interested in becoming one, get in touch with James Pearson – our Business & Trade Executive at james.pearson@britishchamber.be

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Last Week, the chamber hosted its conference on the Digital Single Market conference. Moderated by Chair of the EU Committee, James Stevens, the conference saw keynote speeches from Commissioner Günther Oettinger: Juhan Lepassaar, Head of Cabinet to Andrus Ansip and Robert Madelin, EPSC as well as featuring representatives from Business and Industry, trade bodies and Members of the European Parliament.

4 Takeaways from Commissioner Oettinger’s speech

Europe is still lagging behind…

Europe has the skills and can boast plenty of success stories in the tech sector but we are still far behind. The creative platforms we have around us – apps, social media, new services: Not enough of these are coming from Europe. This is something we need to reverse.

Digital Single Market now

For decades we have been developing a common European market covering a broad spectrum of sectors, giving a clear advantage to our industries in the context of the biggest market in world. There is no argument whatsoever against enlarging the benefits of the common market to the digital sector. Such benefits are expected to be much bigger if one looks to the markets of Europe’s associated partners such as Ukraine or Turkey. Fixing the regulatory fragmentation is the key issue: we do not need 28 national silos. In this respect, the general data protection regulation adopted a few months ago is the example to be followed.

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A gigabyte society

The Digital Single Market cannot become a reality without adequate infrastructures. Europe must aim for a gigabyte society if it wants to avoid failure. In order to make the most of booming sectors such as the development of the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine, or e–health, Europe cannot keep leveraging on 30 Mbps or 100 Mbps forever. It should start thinking of networks capable of reaching speeds of 500mbps or higher.

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Digital Divide(s)

Europe is still grappling with two types of digital divide. The first concerns the connectivity gap between rural and metropolitan areas, which in turn requires more comprehensive investment strategies in digital infrastructures. The second lies between European citizens with digital skills and those who lack technological education. Member states should give more priority to the digital education of their citizens: the European Commission will step up its efforts to help them set up related policies on digital skills.

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DSM: Bridging the Gap -Media Partner

You can catch the rest of the highlights on our Twitter feed

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The British Chamber is this year proud to be supporting 4 different charitable organisations in Belgium this year through our affiliation with the Brussels British Community Association. In February, we introduced you to CHS and this time Chairman David Humphreys introduces the British Charitable Fund.

The British Charitable Fund (BCF) was founded in 1815 on the initiative of the Duke of Wellington after the Battle of Waterloo. Its goal then was to help wounded British soldiers, and their dependents, who stayed on in Belgium after the battle.

Over 200 years later, the BCF continues to work to help any needy person with a British connection who is resident in Belgium. There are few rules on who can benefit from our help, but in practice applicants must be British nationals or their dependents, and must have exhausted the normal means of support from family and state agencies.

Enquiries for help come in from young and old, long term residents or short term visitors – rich and poor alike! Even today, despite the best efforts of many agencies, there are gaps in the provision of social help that can uniquely affect foreigners in Belgium. The variety of problems encountered by the BCF is vast, but typically can range from loneliness, ill health and/or financial issues. All of these problems can be exacerbated by language difficulties and the absence of close family.

We are non-denominational and non-judgmental, and of course all enquiries are treated with the utmost confidentiality.

The BCF remains the only tax-registered charity providing for the needs of the British community in Belgium. We are staffed purely by volunteers and have minimal running costs. We receive no financial support from government agencies and rely purely on donations. All donations over 40 euros are tax-deductible in Belgium.

We are currently helping a number of beneficiaries, including victims of recent events, but feel there may be many more people in Belgium living in difficult circumstances whom we may also be able to help.

If you know of someone who needs help, or if you would like to make a donation, we can be contacted by telephone 02 767 47 26, by email bcf.info@telenet.be, or via our web-site http://www.bcfund.be

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Two of our organising committees are currently in search of new chairs this summer. We’re looking for two professionals to lead our Business Development Group and our young professional’s network, Brussels New Generation. We took some time over Easter to talk to President of the British Chamber, Thomas Spiller about the importance of sitting in a leadership role outside of your organisation.

This summer is going to bring with it two very exciting opportunities for two professionals in our network here at the chamber. With that in mind, I wanted to emphasise the importance of sitting in a leadership role outside of your organisation; it can be a real boost for your personal development whilst bringing real benefits to your employers.

First of all, you’re instantly going to raise your own personal profile: it’ll be your name at the top of the list. And if your name is there, you’re also creating visibility for your company. For example, if you’re chairing a committee at the chamber, you’ll get visibility for yourself and your organisation through our various media. You’re also going to be at the speakers table for the events that you’re committee have organised which brings me to my next point: your ability to expand your network through a trusted platform.

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The British Chamber attracts the key, high level stakeholders and decision-makers in both politics and business all year round. As chair of either BDG or BNG, you’ll be hosting these individuals at our events. This is also where you’re employers can really benefit too as you’ll be in prime position to ask the questions and gain real insights that you can take away and better prepare your organisation for whatever challenges the future will bring.

Where and who these insights come from? You can lead on that. You’ll be in the driving seat to shape the agenda and put together the programme with your committee. The new BNG chair will already be inheriting an exciting programme in 2016 as we look ahead to the Strasbourg Visit. You’ll be chairing panels including MEP’s, political advisers and senior press officers. If you’re elected chair of the Business Development Group, you’ll be chairing a fast growing committee! BDG hosted 40 events in 2015 compared to 12 the year before and have the next London Visit to look forward to which last year featured Ken Clarke MP and Lord Mandelson as speakers. The committee will also be overseeing our ‘Ambassador Hosts’ series with the great support of British Ambassador to Belgium, HE Alison Rose.

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Don’t forget that these sorts of opportunities allow you to demonstrate your leadership potential outside of your day to day role. Show your employers that you aspire to leadership and are actively trying to push yourself and find that experience yourself. Make sure you grab your opportunity and apply for a leadership role at the chamber role today!

You can read a bit about what the current chairs had to say about how they’ve benefited from their roles below:

Chairing the Business Development Group has not only offered me a unique opportunity to contribute to the continued growth of the British Chamber; the role has also provided me with extended visibility for my business as well as on an individual level. The role offers great exposure in relation to fellow chamber members and other key stakeholders in the British, Belgian and European business communities. It’s been an honour and pleasure to chair chamber activities with such interesting and diverse speakers as Lord Mandelson, Jerry Hardcastle OBE, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, and many other senior business leaders, political figures, entrepreneurs, and opinion leaders.

– Olivier Van Horenbeeck, Chair of the Business Development Group 2014-2016

Chairing the BNG has been incredibly helpful for me both from a personal and professional perspective. It has enabled me to significantly expand my network of contacts and brought me great visibility as an individual consultant but also for my company, particularly vis-à-vis senior people in Brussels. It is also the best possible training in public speaking, which for a young professional is a very useful skill to develop. Finally, I really enjoyed working alongside a great team both within the British chamber and the BNG group. It is a great role and a significant part of the Chamber’s activities towards younger audiences in Brussels.

– Amélie Coulet, Chair of Brussels New Generation 2016-2016

It’s obvious that young people are the one’s with the highest stake in the debate over the future of Europe. BNG Chair Amelie Coulet argues that to engage the younger generation in the UK, referendum campaigns need to be more positive.

Last week, I spoke to an event organized by the Young Professionals Network of the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe (COBCOE) in London about “Brexit: what would it mean for young professionals?”. It was a great opportunity to show the multinational perspective of the BNG group (Brussels New Generation) on this important issue: what would Brexit actually mean for all the young working Europeans, many of whom have studied, lived and worked in more than one EU member state or may be currently working in a country that is not their own.

Since the start of the campaign, we have heard the views of many politicians and business leaders both in the UK and outside. However, it is the younger generation who will be living with the consequences of the Referendum, no matter the outcome. Yet, current polls show that young people below 35 years old do not share the same views than the older demographic. A recent poll found that 25% of 18- to 34-year-olds would vote to leave the EU compared to 46% of those aged 55 or older, with the age group in between remaining relatively neutral. But more importantly, the younger generations are also much less likely to vote: this British Election Study poll shows that more than 22-23% of 18- to 34-year-olds would not vote while they are less than 8% among the 56 to 65 age group.

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There are many interpretations as to why a generation who would rather keep things the way they currently are, would take the risk of letting other voters with opposite views take control of the debate? Bad timing of the Referendum has been pointed out as one of them (end of year exams, summer holidays, etc.). From our perspective as young professionals, we believe that our generation does not share the same view of the EU than those who remember the UK before it joined in 1973. Young professionals are more mobile and ‘pan-European’: they have long taken advantage of Erasmus programmes, the rise of low-cost airlines in a free movement area, or the growing cross-border job opportunities offered by international corporations. They do not see the EU in terms of costs vs. benefits but more as something they have always lived with, whether they agree with all its policies or not, or whether they found it to be a successful or a dysfunctional project. This ‘sense of normality’ may be one of the reasons why they feel less strongly about the issue than those aged 55 or older.

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Negative campaigning is also the dominant trend at the moment: from being overtaken by migrants if the UK stays, to the collapse of the entire British economy if they leave, it is difficult to find positive arguments coming out of the ‘IN’ or ‘OUT’ campaigns. Yet ‘Project Fear’ will not work with young people on the long-term. As the Scotland experience has taught us, if it may work to keep the status quo on the short-term, it won’t convince voters that they have made a conscious choice nor will it close the debate: following the Referendum on Scotland’s independence, SNP recorded a historic landslide general election victory and the idea of Scotland leaving the UK has resurfaced facing the possibility of a ‘Brexit’.

Both sides of the campaign need to better inform and involve younger people in the debate, not scare them off. The younger generation, and particularly the young professionals, also need to make their voice heard. For that, it is everyone’s role and responsibility to encourage young people to take part in a campaign that will strongly impact their future.

The Referendum will be held during the 2016 Glastonbury music festival: its organisers have quickly reacted to inform their audience about how they can vote while still enjoying the festival. We should all do the same with all our young British friends and colleagues.

 

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