It covers payment methods and information on, banking systems, foreign exchange controls, and U.S. and correspondent banking.
Methods of Payment: Belgian importers are relatively small and tend to press for the most lenient credit terms possible, since they have fewer sources of inexpensive capital. Belgian importers are also accustomed to being offered flexible payment terms, particularly from neighboring trading partners such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K., Switzerland, and, to a lesser extent, Italy. Extended payment terms of 30, 60, 90 and even 120 days are not unusual, though the most common payment term is 30 days. Belgian businesses however, like many European ones, routinely delay payment beyond the agreed upon terms. In Belgium, 43 % of all payments are not made by their anticipated due date, although 80 % of these are paid within the 30 days following the original deadline. In short, 91 % of all payments by Belgian businesses are made within 60 days. This is a better record than Italy’s or the U.K.’s, and on par with France and the Netherlands.
Since the use of credit is widespread, offering more flexible credit terms can be an important factor in winning sales contracts in Belgium. U.S. firms should consider this option, provided they are able and willing to offer such terms and have done a full credit check on the Belgian company. Even then however, it is advisable to try several shipments on a secured credit basis before moving to more lenient terms. There are several local credit reporting agencies available, including Dun & Bradstreet and Graydon.
Import duties and value added tax (VAT) are applied to the CIF (Cost Insurance Freight) value of goods. The rate of import duties is the same rate as applied by all EU countries. Since products coming from other EU member states enter Belgium duty free, U.S. products often start off with an average 5-6 % price disadvantage. By offering favorable credit terms, U.S. suppliers can help their importers offset a portion of that disadvantage.
For more information about the methods of payment or other trade finance options, please read the Trade Finance Guide available athttps://www.trade.gov/trade-finance-guide-quick-reference-us-exporters.
Banking Systems: The Belgian banking system has long been known to be a sophisticated and liberal banking system. Standardized customer account numbers for all financial intermediaries are widely used, and internet and phone banking are well developed. There are no restrictions on the free movement of capital and regulatory requirements are minimal. There is a particularly wide and flexible range of loan products offered to companies, with no discrimination as to the nationality of the investor. There are also many options available when it comes to raising risk capital. Thanks to an efficient branch network, there is a large number of Belgian and foreign banks servicing the country. Due to the sheer volume of international business carried out in Belgium, more than half of all banking transactions are international financial transactions. The majority of Belgian banks also have an extensive international network based on strategically located branches in the main financial markets around the world. A number of the 106 banks located in Belgium feature prominently in the top 100 international banks. The combined assets of the three main banks (Fortis, ING and KB Group) amount to $370 billion.
All credit institutions (banks and savings banks) operate under the same legal framework and are monitored by the same supervisory authorities. The Banking, Finance and Insurance Commission (BFAC) supervises the activities of financial institutions, including banks, investment funds, stock brokers, finance companies and holding companies. As a result of the deregulation of the banking sector in 1993, credit institutions have been able to offer all financial services, as defined by European legislation. The BFAC supervises the financial sector in close coordination with the National Bank of Belgium (Belgium’s central bank).
Domestic and foreign banks in Belgium are represented by the Belgian Bankers’ Association (BBA). Since June 2003, the BBA has been part of the recently created professional organization that represents the whole Belgian financial sector (banks, investment funds, leasing companies, stockbrokers, asset managers and companies offering credit to the household sector), called Febelfin.
The four main Belgian banks are ING, Dexia Bank, BNP Paribas-Fortis and KBC. A full range of financial services is offered, with special account facilities for non-Belgian nationals. Banking services are also available from the Post Office. Banking hours are normally 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The main bankcard used in Belgium is the Mister Cash-Bancontact debit card, issued along with a PIN number upon opening a bank account in Belgium. In order to open an account, proof of identity, such as a passport, is required. The Bancontact card can be used to withdraw cash at ATMs, and to pay for almost anything in Belgium, from a newspaper, parking meter, gasoline, or a loaf of bread from the bakery. Credit options are also available on application. All bank ATMs in Belgium accept the Bancontact card; some accept MasterCard, Visa and other credit and debit cards. The major credit cards are generally accepted in stores, restaurants, and hotels.
Foreign Exchange Controls: There are no foreign exchange limitations on the transfer of capital or profits in Belgium, except in exceptional situations (e.g., as with UN sanctions).
U.S. Banks and Local Correspondent Banks:
Citibank has 208 branches in Belgium. The following banks have correspondent U.S. banking arrangements:
BNP Paribas Fortis Bank (Fortis): Fortis is an international financial services provider active in the fields of insurance, banking and investment, and ranks as one of the World’s largest financial institutions. In its home market, the Benelux countries, Fortis occupies a leading position and offers a broad range of financial services to individuals, companies and the public sector.
The bank has offices in New York, Stanford, Dallas, and Boston.
As the deterioration in credit market conditions impacted the solvency of Fortis, the governments of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands invested EUR 11.2 billion in the group in September 2008. Later, the French bank BNP Paribas announced the acquisition of Fortis, which would make it the largest holder of retail deposit in the 15-member euro area. This acquisition was negotiated with the Belgian authorities to prevent the bank from collapsing and triggering a breakdown in the financial system. Since May 12, 2009, Fortis bank has been controlled by BNP Paribas.
KBC: KBC focuses on five key areas: retail and private bank insurance, corporate services, asset management, market activities, and Central Europe. The KBC Group also has a key position in Central Europe, its second home market. In Brussels, Flanders, and the German-speaking area, the bank is active under the name KBC; in Wallonia it uses the name of its subsidiary, CBC.
The KBC Group also has branches in New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles.
ING: ING is the number one financial services company in the Benelux home market. It offers its clients in these markets a wide range of retail-banking, insurance, and asset management services. In wholesale banking activities, ING operates worldwide, but maintains a primary focus on the Benelux countries. In the United States, ING is a top-five provider of retirement services and life insurance.
ING’s operations in the United States are based in Atlanta, but the bank has a network of approximately 10,000 associates in cities around the country such as Hartford, Minneapolis, Denver, Des Moines, and Phoenix.
Belfius Bank and Insurance: Belfius Bank and Insurance, known as Dexia Bank Belgium up until March 1, 2012, is a for-profit PLC originally founded to meet local authority needs. Belfius emerged from the dismantling of the Dexia group, of which it was part until October 10, 2011, when it was purchased by the Belgian State for four billion euros. The company’s headquarters are in Brussels.