Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: The country is a distribution center within Europe for many companies, and has rising health care expenditures domestically as well as an ecosystem of research and development for innovations that make a worldwide impact.

The life science and health care industry is one of the world's largest and fastest-growing industries. For this reason, Belgium invests heavily in life sciences and biopharmaceuticals.

With a surface area of nearly 17,000 square kilometers, Wallonia is the largest of Belgium’s three regions (the other two are Flanders and Brussels), and employs approximately 15,000 people in the life sciences sector. In addition, this sector represents the highest percentage of the region’s total exports.

Wallonia’s science and technology parks count about 500 high-tech companies—contributing to the region’s forward-looking competitiveness. The Science Park Network of Wallonia consists of seven science parks and creates ideal conditions for high-tech companies from within and outside the region to collaborate.

Flanders, in turn, is a hotspot for life sciences, and connects businesses with the best managers, scientists and technicians. The region is ideally located between the following four countries: the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands, each of which has opportunities and strengths in life sciences.

For businesses active in life sciences, Flanders has a very innovative ecosystem of excellent universities, research centers and academic hospitals. The region has a large network of pharmaceutical, biotech and other major industries.

Thanks to its geographic location, Belgium is an important country for marketing medical equipment to the rest of Europe. It is used as a distribution center for many multinationals, with many goods and products imported into Belgium and then exported to other European countries. In addition, Belgium itself has important cities with life sciences research parks that offer highly specialized services and resources. These include Ghent, Leuven, Antwerp and Hasselt.

Available statistical data shows that Belgium’s public expenditure on health care is generally increasing. Due to an aging population and rising health care standards, an increase in health care expenditures is expected in the coming years.

The Belgian government’s cost-saving measures in particular constitute opportunities for Wisconsin companies. Innovative technologies and equipment that offer cost savings have strong market potential. Orthopedic, home care, obesity and diabetes products are in high demand. Furthermore, there is a trend towards new technologies that allow patients with chronic diseases to remain in their homes, thus minimizing the impact of their conditions on their quality of life. Therefore, medical software, telemedicine and e-health also have strong potential in this market.

U.S. suppliers should be familiar with EU requirements relating to registration, marketing and health standards, as well as regulations specific to Belgium. Consequently, it is recommended to work with a local partner or distributor when attempting to enter this market.

The Health & Care trade show, taking place from April 24-26 in Ghent, is a good opportunity for Wisconsin companies to research the Belgian market, build and maintain business contacts, and search for partners.