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    Economic and business news from Belgium

    Economic and business news January & February 2011



    1. Foreign investments in Belgium



    This section was prepared in collaboration between the Federal Public Service (FPS) Foreign Affairs and the Liaison Cell Federal-Regions Foreign Investments. The Liaison Cell was created in 1995 as a result of the Cooperation Agreement “Foreign Investments” of 7 February 1995. Its mission is to raise important issues concerning the investment climate in Belgium to policy makers, and create synergies between all the Belgian authorities involved in the attraction of foreign investments. The following authorities are represented in the Cell: FPS Foreign Affairs, FPS Economy, FPS Finance, Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT), Agence wallonne à l’Exportation (AWEX), the Brussels Enterprise Agency (BEA) and the Ministry of the Brussels-Capital Region. Its chair is held by the Regions on a rotating basis and its secretariat is ensured by the FPS Economy.


    Secretariat of the Liaison Cell

    FPS Economie

    Vooruitgangstraat 50 rue du Progrès

    B-1210 Brussels

    tel : 02/277.69.13




    Belgium is attracting substantially more foreign investors


    The fifth Global Investment Trends Monitor published by UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, revealed that Belgium accumulated €38 billion in foreign investments in 2010, which is a substantial increase in relation to 2009 (€25 billion).


    Compared with the rest of the European Union, Belgium is doing very well since foreign investments within the EU have in fact declined by 20%.




    In 2010, foreign investors invested €257 million in Walloon Region


    The Walloon Agency for Export and Foreign Investment (AWEX) and the Walloon Public Service for the Economy have indicated that last year foreign investors invested €257 million in Wallonia. There are 68 investment projects: both new projects (‘greenfield’) and expansion of existing investments. These created 1,733 new jobs. The new projects created 1,386 direct jobs. 93% of the new jobs were created in the provinces of Hainaut, Liege and Walloon Brabant.


    Most of the investments come from Europe (52%), followed by North-America (35%) and Asia (13%). The sectors in which was invested most were: science (25%), agri-food (18%), chemicals (17%) and the glas industry (10%).




    FDI in Flanders returns to pre-crisis level


    Foreign companies set up 155 new investment projects in Flanders in 2010. These totaled €2.03 billion in value and created 3,481 jobs. This brings Flanders back to the level of before the economic crisis.


    Almost half of the investments in 2010 were greenfield projects. The lion's share of the investments went on the manufacturing industry, followed by logistics and sales. These three industries together account for close on 82% of all foreign direct investment projects. Of all investment projects 23 (14.8%) went on R&D activities, in 2009 that number stood at 9. In 2009, there were 115 foreign direct investment projects in Flanders worth, between them, EUR 1.16 billion.


    The US (21.9%) remains the main investor, followed by our neighboring countries the Netherlands (just under 11%) and Germany (10.3%). Asia has become a major investor, surpassing the US, with China taking 4th place (11 projects and 7.1%), followed by South Korea (5th), Japan and India (7th) and Australia (10th). The BRIC countries went from a share of 8% in previous years to 15% in 2010.




    American biotechnology company Genzyme to invest €250 million in its Geel production site


    Genzyme has active been in Belgium since 1992. Since 2001, the American company has invested approximately €350 million in a production factory for therapeutic proteins in Geel (Antwerp province). An additional investment of €250 million has now been announced.


    Thanks to this investment, the site in Geel will be the largest Genzyme production site in the world. The new site will manufacture Myozyme, a medicine used to treat Glycogen storage disease type II, also known as Pompe disease, a rare hereditary progressive disease that causes increasing muscle weakness.


    The Genzyme site in Geel currently employs 450 people. Another 150 jobs are being created for this new production line.


    The new factory will be operational by 2015.




    Chinese bank ICBC opens new branch in Brussels


    Chinese banking giant ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) has opened a new branch in Belgium. The inauguration ceremony took place in Brussels on 19 January 2011.


    The Group will focus mainly on Chinese corporate clients willing to invest in Europe while providing services for individual customers as well. ICBC also aims to serve the European corporations having businesses with China.


    The opening of ICBC Brussels Branch is the second move of ICBC’s European expansion of five branches. Within one week, ICBC has held opening ceremonies for five branches namely in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Milan and Madrid. The decision of ICBC to open five European branches almost simultaneously at this time fully reflects the firm confidence in the future development of Europe.


    The opening of the Brussels ICBC branch, only one month after Bank of China opened a new branch in the Belgian capital, is significant and marks an important milestone in the largest Chinese bank’s internationalization progress. According to Jian Jianqing, Chairman of ICBC, the bank’s European expansion is a logical consequence of the fact that Europe is China’s most important trade partner.


    So far, ICBC has set up 203 overseas institutions in 28 countries and territories around the world, established correspondent banking relationships with 1,453 banks in 132 countries and territories.  A global business network has taken shape covering the five continents of Asia, Africa, Europe, America and Australia, significantly enhancing ICBC’s cross-market and global service capabilities.




    Cenix Bioscience brings new R&D centre to Belgium


    Cenix BioScience is a German contract research organisation, established in Dresden (Germany) in 1999. It performs mainly contract research for large pharma and biotech companies, specializing in drug discovery based on RNA interference (RNAi) and micro-RNA (miRNA) screening. The company currently employs a staff of 35.


    Cenix is beefing up its research and development operations by opening a new subsidiary in Belgium. The new R&D centre will help accelerate development of the company's capabilities in key growth areas including drug discovery for central nervous system diseases and in vivo RNAi. New staff will be hired to support these efforts. Projected date of operations is the second quarter of 2011.




    Dutch dairy concern invests €36 million in Aalter plant 


    The Dutch international dairy concern FrieslandCampina has begun investments at its production site in the city of Aalter (province of East-Flanders). Around €36 million will be directed at almost doubling the production capacity there and will create 90 new jobs.


    The facility in Aalter produces the brands ‘Joyvalle’ and ‘Campina’ for the Belgian, French, British, German and Dutch markets. In the future it will also produce the brands ‘Fristi’, ‘Cecemel’ and ‘Nutroma’ in cardboard packaging and bottles, and coffee creamer in single-serving cups.


    The additional production volume will provide work for an extra 90 staff, on top of the 500 employees already working in Aalter. Last year the company invested in its site in Lummen. Later on this year the production site in Bornem will also receive a new investment package.




    UK-based company Suttons launches new regional office in Port of Antwerp


    Suttons International, leading UK-based supplier of transport and logistics solutions, recently opened a new regional office in Antwerp to support its European growth. Antwerp was chosen because of its ideal location as a gateway for both short sea and deep sea shipments.


    Suttons International specializes in moving bulk liquids and chemicals around the world. The company first opened an Antwerp office ten years ago. At the new office a staff of five will be handling the demand for the company's specialist services. The management of the European activities is centralized at this office.


    Suttons International operates a fleet of 4,000 liquid bulk containers and 800 gas containers.





    Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn invests in Belgium


    The very first Albert Heijn supermarket in Belgium is to open its doors in March in Brasschaat near Antwerp. Even though many Dutch citizens live in this town, the store in Brasschaat is not going to be an exact copy of its counterpart in the Netherlands. The products that will be sold in Brasschaat will be a healthy mix of Belgian and Dutch products. The proven assets of the Dutch concept will be applied to the Belgian supermarket: a combination of a huge assortment of products, personal service and low prices.


    The new 1,200 m² Albert Heijn supermarket in Brasschaat will employ around 40 people.


    With this first branch in Brasschaat, Albert Heijn has officially launched its expansion process toward Belgium. The decision to come to our country has been taken definitively.




    McDonald’s to open new restaurants in Belgium


    American restaurant chain McDonald’s has announced that it will open two new restaurants in Belgium this year. The investment is worth €12 million (an increase of 20 % compared to the year before) and would involve the creation of around 130 new jobs. At this moment, McDonald's owns 62 restaurants in Belgium, which welcomed more than 34 million customers in 2010. This is an increase of 2 million compared to 2009.




    Subway to open 15 sandwich stores in Belgium


    American chain Subway is to open 154 new sandwich stores in Belgium this year. At this moment, the American chain already owns 15 Belgian branches. Subway is relatively small on the Belgian fastfood market, but intends to grow.




     ‘Regain’ business incubator at Créalys


    Regain’, a passive business incubator, is the new pride of the Economic Bureau of the Province of Namur (BEP). It is located at the ‘Créalys’ industrial zone at Les Isnes (Gembloux), an important science park that accommodates many enterprises active in the scientific research and development sector.

    The construction of the business incubator is part of ‘Regain’, a European programme aimed at encouraging investors to build or renovate their industrial premises to a high energy efficiency level. This programme brings together French, English, Italian and Belgian partners, who use their knowledge of the subject to promote durable industrial construction. The Regain business incubator at the ‘Créalys Park’ is a result of this international partnership.

    With a surface area of 1,300 square metres, the intention is to rent it out to new enterprises which have been operating for less than five years. The objective of the business incubator is to make the early stages of the enterprise easier and allow the entrepreneur to access a modern and well-equipped infrastructure and local services already available at the ‘Créalys Park’ such as meeting rooms and secretarial services, quickly and at a reasonable price.

    Wagralim, the Walloon centre of competitive excellence in the food processing sector will be the first tenant. ‘Regain’ should be full by the summer.


    The BEP intends to use the experience acquired in constructing this passive infrastructure in future projects. In particular it will be used in the ‘Ecolys’ development at the Rhisnes Park (Namur), dedicated to eco-construction. Work on the first buildings should start in spring 2012.



    Wallonia to open ‘Welcome Office’ for Brazilian and Latin-American investors


    Via AWEX (the Walloon Export Agency), the Walloon Region is continuing its policy of creating service centres for foreign investors. This is a welcome structure whereby, during the first few months following their arrival in Wallonia, they can access modern offices and means of communication.


    The ‘China Welcome Office’, which was set up earlier and is located in Mons, currently accommodates four Chinese companies, three of which have become companies governed by Belgian law. Set up in March 2010, the service centre dedicated to Indian investors accommodates two Indian companies.


    A third centre will soon be in operation, dedicated to Latin-American investors: the ‘Welcome Office Brazil-Latinam’.




    Belgium to organise two investment seminars in Russia in April


    During a six-day economic mission that will be presided over by His Royal Highness Prince Philip of Belgium, a strong delegation of Belgian entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to meet their Russian counterparts. This unique business initiative for both countries is bound to result in many fruitful contacts that will inevitably materialise in the months and years to come.


    In this context, Belgium is organising two inward investment seminars that will take place in Moscow and St-Petersburg (5 & 7 April). These events will offer Russian business leaders a unique opportunity to exchange and discuss potential joint activities and investments for Russian companies in Belgium. 





    French company AZNetwork establishes itself in Belgium


    AZNetwork, integrating agile information system solutions at Alençon (France), specialising in the integration of the ‘Generix’ management software package for commerce and distribution, has just bought out Cediti, the Centre for the Distribution of Information Technologies at Charleroi (Hainaut province). This acquisition is part of its external growth strategy based on the creation of subsidiaries and the purchase of companies “that show clear synergies” with its work.


    Cediti creates web applications (e-commerce platforms, etc.) and has developed an expertise in Web 2.0 technologies. By joining AZNetwork, this company, which has won many international prizes, intends to break through onto the commercial market.


    By physically establishing itself in Belgium, AZNetwork, which already generates 20% of its turnover there, plans to develop further within the Benelux region.

    Chinese company DTJO Enterprise sets up in Wavre


    DTJO Entreprise, a small to medium-sized Chinese enterprise that packages and re-exports marine worms to Europe for use in line fishing, has decided to set up in Wavre (Walloon Brabant province). The company has invested €500,000 over three years on its installations. Its establishment in Wallonia is a strategic choice.

    Wallonia has two main assets: firstly it is well-situated in the heart of Europe. The road network and airports enable the company to deliver to the whole of Europe. The second advantage is the services put in place by the Walloon government. These services enable the company to carry out all administrative procedures very quickly.


    The new company in Wavre intends to hire between 5 and 10 people in March and around thirty in May.



    Qatar Airways arrives in Brussels


    31 January 2011 saw the inaugural flight of the new Qatar Airways service between Doha and Brussels. Five flights a week, between the two capitals, will link Brussels passengers to nearly 100 destinations worldwide. Brussels became Qatar Airways’ third new European destination.


    A new Brussels-based team of 20 employees will be added to the Belgians already working for Qatar Airways in Doha.




    K&L Gates establishes Brussels Office


    Global law firm K&L Gates opened its 37th office in the world in Brussels. This law firm will offer its clients (European institutions as well as the Belgian authorities) solutions to challenges arising from governmental regulation.


    K&L Gates has both the ambition and the ability to become the leading regulatory firm in Brussels.







    2. Contracts abroad for Belgian companies



    Belgian informatics company I.R.I.S. signs new contract in West Africa


    I.R.I.S., a Belgian company with headquarters in Louvain-la-Neuve (province of Walloon Brabant), specialized in Intelligent Document Recognition, Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and complex infrastructure for Information and Communication Technology, has signed a new contract with the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA). The new contract focuses mainly on training and supporting users, change management and long-term maintenance of a system for scanning and digital archiving of documents, which I.R.I.S. had already implemented at UEMOA last year.  The contract is worth hundreds of thousands euro.


    The West African Economic and Monetary Union is a sub-regional organisation created in 1994 between eight West African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo with the aim of creating a common economic and monetary market, coordinating national policies in various sectors and harmonising the legal framework.


    In 2010, I.R.I.S. already successfully implemented the system for digitising the documents and archiving them at the Commission of the UEMOA. Like any other organization, the UEMOA has produced and inherited many documents over the years, enough to fill 600 metres of bookshelves! UEMOA has also accumulated a huge collection of multimedia archives. Therefore, it contracted I.R.I.S. to provide a structural solution.


    I.R.I.S.’ solution has not only substantially reduced the storage space needed, but it has also facilitated access to the files, shortened the time needed for treatment and archiving of documents and lessened the risk of losing them. Finally, it has reduced administrative burdens and led to a substantial gain of time.


    For more information visit




    Belgian group DEME signs contract for dredging works on the Congo river


    Belgian group DEME (Dredging, Environmental and Marine Engineering) is a conglomerate of companies. It can look back on nearly 150 years of experience. The group is specialised in dredging for deepening and maintenance; port construction and expansion; services to the oil and gas industry; wreck removal; deep sea works; construction of offshore wind farm projects; and a wide array of environmental activities – from removal of pollution or contaminants from groundwater or surface water, over recycling of sludge and soil washing, to treatment of sediments, whether contaminated or not. DEME can rely on a modern and versatile fleet consisting of 90 main vessels and around 200 auxiliary vessels. It has a permanent workforce of 4,000 persons. DEME is active worldwide: in 2010, works were executed in 50 countries on all five continents. The current investment programme in high-tech material will allow DEME to face the future with an ultra-efficient and very modern fleet.


    DEME company Dredging International has signed a contract with the Régie des Voies Maritimes (RVM) in the Democratic Republic of Congo in cooperation with the shipping company Maersk for the execution of deepening works on the Congo river between Malela and Boma, in the downstream reach some 60 km from the port of Matadi. The works call for the deepening of this section of the river from the present level of -18 feet to approximately -26 feet. The works are being executed with the trailing suction hopper dredger Orwell that was mobilized from Antwerp in Belgium. The works have been started in January and will cover a period of approximately two months. The objective is to offer to the container vessels of Maersk sufficient depth to be able to reach the port of Matadi safely.


    Within the framework of the jumelage between Antwerp and Matadi, the Port of Antwerp supports this important dredging campaign. Before the start of the works, they have surveyed and mapped the critical spots of the river. During the execution of the works a number of their experts are interactively supervising the dredging works.


    As part of this contract, Dredging International looks after the training of hydrographers and dredging crews of RVM. Interesting detail is the fact that the project manager of Dredging International and the captain of the trailer Orwell are former RVM employees.


    However, not only through them is DEME acquainted with the Congo river. During the years 1989 – 1990 Dredging International carried out deepening works in this reach of the river to achieve depths of -32 feet. This knowledge is quite important, since the Congo river is known to have a very complex typical hydrography that requires very specific ‘directed dredging’.


    On the other hand, on 21 January 2011 DEME’s new 30,000 m³ mega trailing suction hopper dredger Congo River was launched. This impressive new dredger will be commissioned as of mid-2011 and will be named during a formal ceremony in Zeebrugge on 8 July 2011. The Congo River is an innovative and multi-functional ship, very manoeuvrable because of its large width (38 m) and short length (168 m) and capable of deployment for many different purposes. Even fully loaded, the vessel will have a limited draught of only 12 m. This makes the Congo River ideal for operations in ports, entrance and navigation channels, beach nourishment, all types of land reclamation, but also very suitable for long-distance transport. The Congo River can, with its deep-suction installation, dredge down to depths of over 100 metres.




    DEME and MEDCO to build two artificial energy islands in U.A.E.


    Dredging International, which is part of the Belgian dredging, environmental and hydraulic engineering Group DEME, and MEDCO (Middle East Dredging company Q.S.C.) have been awarded a contract worth € 200 million for mixed dredging and civil engineering works to construct two artificial energy islands, including their service harbours, aimed to provide Abu Dhabi with energy based on facilities for oil drilling, etc. from the previously untapped offshore Satah al-Razboot (SARB) field.


    Such small-scale energy islands, serve as a valuable alternative for oil exploration and exploitation from steel offshore platforms. Their design and implementation is based on a full-fledged environmental impact assessment study. The new energy islands will be located 120 km off the northwest coast of Abu Dhabi City. The contract has been signed during the official mission of the Flemish Minister-President Kris Peeters to Abu Dhabi and Qatar.


    The contract was awarded by Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company (ADMA-OPCO), which is the daughter company of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) for exploration of oil and gas offshore. The works are scheduled to start mid February 2011. The contract involves engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) and starts with approx. 5 months of engineering and preparation of all logistics.


    The project consists of reclaiming two 500m x 500m artificial islands and protecting their perimeters with a shore protection consisting of concrete armour units and armour rock.




    Belgian technology shapes Olympic cycling outfits


    In close collaboration with the fashion technology programme of University College Ghent (Hogeschool Gent), the Belgian company Bio-Racer from Tessenderlo (province of Limburg) will develop individually-fitted Olympic cycling outfits for five European teams.


    Some 150 Olympic cycling athletes from Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France and Germany will undergo a 3D body scan at University College Ghent.


    Based on these 3D images, avatars (virtual cyclists) and textile patterns will be developed. They will allow sports textile firm Bio-Racer to produce an individually-tailored outfit for each cyclist.


    Mapping that perfect body shape before manufacturing the tailor-made outfits could be the difference between winning a gold or silver medal. Indeed, research has shown that a tight-fitting body suit can generate up to several seconds in faster race time.




    Belgian bakery and restaurant chain Le Pain Quotidien opens branch in Mumbai (India)


    The Belgian bakery and restaurant chain Le Pain Quotidien has set up its first branch in Mumbai, India. The Indian edition of Vogue magazine has devoted a lot of attention to the Belgian newcomer. The Indian lifestyle blog Mumbai Boss has even put the Belgian bread restaurant on first place in the list of new restaurants in Mumbai.


    With this new branch in Mumbai Le Pain Quotidien now owns 152 bread restaurants worldwide and employs more than 3,500 persons. In 2009 they were collectively worth €125 million.


    Le Pain Quotidien swears by biological ingredients for its hand-kneaded bread. In its restaurants all over the world there are long wooden tables, the trademark of this Belgian bakery chain.







    3. General economic information about Belgium




    Belgian Peter Praet chosen to enter European Central Bank’s Executive Board


    On 14 February 2011, Finance ministers of the euro zone unanimously recommended the Belgian Peter Praet, currently director at the Belgian central bank, to succeed to Austria's Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell on the ECB’s six-member Executive Board.


    The European Central Bank (ECB) is the central bank for the seventeen EU countries which have adopted the bloc’s common currency, the euro. The ECB is reponsible for the monetary policy of the euro zone. The ECB’s president, Jean-Claude Trichet, is assisted by the Executive Board of the ECB. The ECB's Board is part of the Governing Council of the Bank, which also includes all 17 presidents of the national central banks of euro zone member states. The body usually meets twice a month in Frankfurt (Germany), where the ECB's seat is located.


    The choice of Peter Praet will now be forwarded for formal adoption to the Heads of State and Government of the euro zone member states. In principle, Praet will start his post on 1 June when Tumpel-Gugerell's eight-year term ends.




    Belgium in the top 6 most globalised countries


    On the eve of the Global Economic Forum in Davos, the consulting firm Ernst & Young have presented their annual Globalisation Index. The Winning in a polycentric world report measures the globalisation of the 60 largest economies of the world. Belgium ranks 6th in this list.


    The study is carried out by Ernst & Young in collaboration with the British research and advisory company Economist Intelligence Unit and is based on five criteria: openness of international trade, cash flows, the exchange of technology and ideas, mobility on the labour market and cultural integration. The index reflects the integration of each country into the global economy, but does not measure the country’s absolute or relative impact on international trade or the global economy. This explains why small countries that are dependant upon export and international trade feature towards the top of the table.




    Belgium fifth most productive country in the world


    According to The Conference Board, an American research institute, Belgium is one of the leading countries in terms of labour productivity. For its annual analysis, the institute measured the gross domestic product (GDP) per hour worked. Our country comes fifth in the global ranking of the most productive countries in the world.


    The 2010 study also shows that the number of hours worked in Belgium grew more than in other countries.




    GDP in Belgium, one of the highest in the Euro zone


    According to data published by the Belgian central bank (BNB/NBB), Belgium did better than average within the Euro zone with growth at 2% of GDP in 2010. In the rest of the Euro zone GDP increased on average by just 1.7%.


    Belgian exports increased by 10% in 2010, after an 11.4% drop the previous year. But the BNB/NBB also noted a sharp recovery in internal demand, in particular household expenditure, which dropped by 0.2 % in 2009, and rose by 1.4 % in 2010.


    As for the jobs market, Belgium recorded 28,000 net job creations, which has wiped out 2009 losses (-15.000), and the unemployment rate, based on the last three quarters, of 8.5%, is lower than in the United States.




    Innovation: Belgium ranks 6the in Europe


    According to a comparative study published on 1 February 2011 by the European Commission (‘2010 Innovation Union Scoreboard’), Belgium appeared in 6th place in 2010 in the European ranking in terms of innovation.


    Belgium is ranked below Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany and Great Britain, but ahead of Austria, the Netherlands and France.


    According to this study, Belgium’s innovative capacity improved by 2% during the past year. The strengths of the country are its high levels of training and attractive research system.




    Flanders prime management school moves up global rankings


    The most recent global MBA index of the Financial Times puts Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in 55th spot. This is 22 places up compared to last year, making it Europe’s strongest and the world’s second biggest climber in the rankings.


    This excellent position is in recognition of the School's efforts in the field of quality improvement, the average salary growth of its graduates and the pragmatic approach of the courses; students need to prove themselves with concrete projects in day-to-day business practice.


    Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School was founded in 1953. The School offers an International MBA program and numerous training programs for business executives. Vlerick is one of the few business schools to hold all three major accreditations relevant to the world of management education: EQUIS, AMBA and AACSB. The School has three campuses: Ghent and Leuven (in Belgium) and St. Petersburg (Russia).


  • Economic and business news May & June 2011 

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