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Belgium is Europe’s #5 foreign investment destination

2018 marked a record year for Belgium in terms of attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) projects. This is confirmed by the recently published annual EY European Investment Monitor. A total of 278 new projects were launched by foreign companies on Belgian soil last year: a 29% increase compared to the previous year, creating 7,363 jobs.

Growing against the tide

The large increase in FDI projects in Belgium runs contrary to the main trend in Europe overall. As a result, the country continues to make its way up in the European FDI rankings, going from 8th place in 2017 to 5th place in 2018. According to EY, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is one of the main reasons why international companies increasingly choose to secure their businesses by investing in Belgium. Another reason highlighted by the consultancy firm is the supply chain reorganization taking place across Europe over the past few years, which contributed to a 18% increase in new logistics projects.

Top 10 European countries based on number of FDI projects in 2018

  Country #projects
1 UK 1,054
2 France  1,027
3 Germany  973
4 Spain  314
5 Belgium  278
6 Poland  272
7 Turkey  261
8 Netherlands  229
9 Russia  211
10 Ireland  205

​But logistics isn’t Belgium’s only flagship activity. In fact, the number of research and development (R&D) projects launched by foreign firms more than doubled in 2018. Furthermore, EY’s European Investment Monitor indicates that, compared to other world regions, Western Europe has become more attractive for the launch of new business activities than ever before in the past 10 years.

More projects, more jobs

Zooming in on Belgium’s FDI results, the country attracted a total of 278 projects (+29%), making 2018 a new record year. The number of jobs created also rose to new heights, reaching a total of 7,363 in 2018. The FDI horizon in Flanders – Belgium’s autonomous northern region – also continues to develop, greatly contributing to Belgium’s overall results.

Number of foreign investment projects through the years

  2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Flanders 74 64 108 74 80 110 121 141 105 134 169
Belgium 142 146 159 153 169 175 198 211 200 215 278

As such, 169 new FDI projects were initiated in Flanders in 2018, an increase of 26% compared to the previous year. This growth resulted in the creation of 5,366 new jobs in the Flanders region, representing 32 jobs created per investment project.

Number of jobs created by foreign investors through the years

  2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Flanders 2,023 1,659 2,611

2,241

1,771

3,143

2,714

2,387

1,804

4,872

5,366

Belgium

3,406

3,357

4,010

3,599

2,939

3,536

3,901

3,168

3,309

5,838

7,363

What’s more, most (66%) of the new FDI projects launched in Belgium in 2018 were greenfield projects: investments by foreign companies that weren’t previously present in the country. This type of project – for which Belgium reached a record total of 184 in 2018 – is seen as an important indicator of a market’s attractiveness for foreign investors.

Breaking it down by sector and activity

Belgium’s services industry was the main driver for success. As such, this industry attracted the highest number of new FDI projects (47) in the country. Completing the top 5 are transport and logistics (35 projects), agro-food (26), digital (23) and transport manufacturing & supply (21). Note that around a quarter of all jobs created by foreign investors originate from the transport and logistics industry.

Top 10 FDI sectors in Belgium in 2018 (based on number of projects)

  Sector #projects
1 Services 47
2 Transport and logistics 35
3 Agro-food 26
4 Digital  23
5 Transport manufacturing and supply 21
6 Chemicals and plastics 18
7 Machines and parts 18
8 Pharmaceuticals 14
9 R&D instruments 13
10 Electronics and IT 12

​Looking at which types of activities score best, it becomes clear that most of the foreign investments concerned sales and marketing projects (97). Logistics (58), manufacturing (57), R&D (36) and headquarters (19) complete the top 5.

Top FDI activities in Belgium in 2018 (based on number of projects)

  Activity #projects
1 Sales & marketing 97
2 Logistics  58
3 Manufacturing  57
4 Research & development 36
5 Headquarters  19

Loyal investors

Concerning the origins of FDI projects, Belgium’s main foreign investor landscape remained largely the same in 2018 as in previous years – with US companies launching the highest number of new projects in Belgium. German businesses, however, take pole position in the ranking of most jobs created in Belgium in the past year.

Top 10 foreign investors in Belgium in 2018 (based on number of projects)

  Country #projects
1 United States 51
2 France  44
3 Netherlands  32
4 United Kingdom 25
5 Germany 23
6 China 16
7 Japan 15
8 Switzerland 8
9 Sweden 6
10 Italy 4

Top 10 foreign investors in Belgium in 2018 (based on number of jobs created)

  Country #jobs created
1 Germany 1,662
2 United States 1,390
3 China  1,323
4 United Kingdom 750
5 France  656
6 Netherlands  570
7 Japan 370
8 Denmark 170
9 Sweden 125
10 Italy 25

About Belgium and Flanders

With Dutch as its official language, Flanders (Dutch: Vlaanderen) is the autonomous northern region of Belgium. The capital of both Belgium and Flanders is Brussels.

More info

EY
Reported by
EY
5 June 2019

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