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Belgium: Market Profile

Picture: Belgium factsheet
Picture: Belgium factsheet
 

1. Overview

Belgium is a founding member of the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development in 1945 and has remained central to pan-European efforts and international institution development. Belgium was one of the original signatories of the European Union (EU) founding Maastricht Treaty in 1992, with Brussels playing host to the union’s headquarters and parliament. In addition to the EU headquarters, Brussels is also home to the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), as Belgium is a founding member of the organisation.

Sources: World Bank, Fitch Solutions

2. Major Economic/Political Events and Upcoming Elections

May 2014
Parliamentary elections saw the New Flemish Alliance won the most seats.

October 2014
Coalition government formed, including a francophone party, the New Flemish Alliance and two other Flemish parties.

May 2019
Belgium was set to have federal and general elections.

Sources: BBC Country Profile – Timeline, Fitch Solutions

3. Major Economic Indicators

Graph: Belgium real GDP and inflation
Graph: Belgium real GDP and inflation
 
Graph: Belgium GDP by sector (2017)
Graph: Belgium GDP by sector (2017)
 
Graph: Belgium unemployment rate
Graph: Belgium unemployment rate
 
Graph: Belgium current account balance
Graph: Belgium current account balance
 

e = estimate, f = forecast
Sources: IMF, World Bank, Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: May 14, 2019

4. External Trade

4.1 Merchandise Trade

Graph: Belgium merchandise trade
Graph: Belgium merchandise trade
 

Source: WTO
Date last reviewed: May 14, 2019

Graph: Belgium major export commodities (2018)
Graph: Belgium major export commodities (2018)
 
Graph: Belgium major export markets (2018)
Graph: Belgium major export markets (2018)
 
Graph: Belgium major import commodities (2018)
Graph: Belgium major import commodities (2018)
 
Graph: Belgium major import markets (2018)
Graph: Belgium major import markets (2018)
 

Sources: Trade Map, Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: May 14, 2019

4.2 Trade in Services

Graph: Belgium trade in services
Graph: Belgium trade in services
 

e = estimate
Source: WTO
Date last reviewed: May 14, 2019

5. Trade Policies

  • Belgium has been a WTO member since January 1, 1995 and a member of GATT since January, 1948.

  • Belgium applies the EU's Common External Tariff, which means goods manufactured and imported from within the EU are not subject to customs charges. The average tariff rate for EU states is just 1.5%, which is among the lowest globally. The duties for non-European countries are also relatively low, especially for manufactured goods (4.2% on average). However, textile, clothing items (high duties and quota system) and food-processing industry sectors (average duties of 17.3% and numerous tariff quotas) still see protective measures. Most of the country's major trade partners are within the EU, hence risks are less pronounced.

  • The EU has imposed various anti-dumping measures on a wide range of products, predominantly in the areas of textiles, parts, steel, iron and machinery on goods coming from China and a few other Asian nations to protect domestic industries.

  • On November 13, 2016, the European Commission (EC) imposed a provisional anti-dumping duty on imports of some primary and semi-processed metals from Mainland China. The rate of duty is between 43.5% and 81.1% of the net free-at-union-frontier price before duty, depending on the company. The rate of duty for similar goods from Belarus is 12.5% of the net free-at-union-frontier price before duty.

  • In 2016, the EC introduced an import licensing regime for steel products exceeding 2.5 tonnes. The regulation will be active until May 15, 2020.

  • In March 2016, the EC imposed a definitive countervailing duty (8.7% or 9%) on imports consisting largely of textile products originating in India.

  • In Q215, the EC issued regulations on trade restrictions with Turkey regarding cattle, beef, watermelons and prepared tomatoes. This will help to protect domestic agriculture and regional farming businesses.

  • On January 1, 2017, the EU imposed additional import duties on certain fruit and vegetables if the quantity of the goods exceeds the trigger volume level within the specified application period.

  • In total, the EU imposes 39 unique anti-dumping measures, affecting 19 states. China has the largest number of anti-dumping provisions against it. Tariff lines are relatively fewer, with only 23 tariffs applicable to imports.

Sources: WTO – Trade Policy Review, Fitch Solutions

6. Trade Agreements

6.1 Multinational Trade Agreements

Active

  1. The EU Common Market: The transfer of capital, goods, services and labour between member nations enjoy free movement. The common market extends to the 28 member nations of the EU, namely: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

  2. European Economic Area (EEA)-European Free Trade Association (EFTA) (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland): While it enhances trade flows between these countries and the EU, only Switzerland is a fairly major trading partner.

  3. EU-Turkey: The customs union within the EU provides tariff-free access to the European market for Turkey, benefitting both exporters and importers.

  4. EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA): In July 2018, the EU and Japan signed a trade deal that promises to eliminate 99% of tariffs that cost businesses in the EU and Japan nearly EUR1 billion annually. According to the EC, the EU-Japan EPA will create a trade zone covering 600 million people and nearly a third of global GDP. The result of four years of negotiation, the EPA was finalised in late 2017 and came into force on February 1, 2019 after the EU Parliament ratified the agreement in December 2018. The total trade volume of goods and services between the EU and Japan is an estimated EUR86 billion. The key parts of the agreement will cut duties on a wide range of agricultural products, while seeking to open up services markets – particularly financial services, e-commerce, telecommunications and transport. Japan is the EU's second biggest trading partner in Asia after China. EU exports to Japan are dominated by motor vehicles, machinery, pharmaceuticals, optical and medical instruments, and electrical machinery.

  5. EU-Southern African Development Community (SADC) EPA (Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland): An agreement between EU and SADC delegations was reached in 2016 and is fully operational for SADC members following the ratification of the agreement by Mozambique. The remaining six members of SADC included in the deal (the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Zambia and Zimbabwe) are seeking economic partnership agreements with the EU as part of other trading blocs – such as with East or Central African communities.

Provisionally Active

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA): The CETA is an agreement between the EU and Canada. CETA was signed in October 2016 and ratified by the Canadian House of Commons and EU Parliament in February 2017. However, the agreement has not been ratified by every European state and has only provisionally entered into force. CETA is expected to strengthen trade ties between the two regions, having come into effect in 2016. Some 98% of trade between Canada and the EU will be duty free under CETA. The agreement is expected to boost trade between partners by more than 20%. CETA also opens up government procurement. Canadian companies will be able to bid on opportunities at all levels of the EU government procurement market and vice versa. CETA means that Canadian provinces, territories and municipalities are opening their procurement to foreign entities for the first time, albeit with some limitations regarding energy utilities and public transport.

Ratification Pending

  1. EU-Central America Association Agreement (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Belize and the Dominican Republic): An agreement between the parties was reached in 2012 and is awaiting ratification (29 of the 34 parties have ratified the agreement as of October 2018). The agreement has been provisionally applied since 2013.

  2. EU-Singapore FTA (EUSFTA): On February 13, 2019, the European Parliament passed the agreement which would see the creation of the EUSFTA. However, before the agreement is implemented, all the states involved will need to ratify the agreement through their individual legislatures; in this case, the FTA may become provisionally active along the lines of states which have already ratified the agreement.

Under Negotiation

  1. EU-Australia: The EU, Australia's second largest trade partner, has launched negotiations for a comprehensive trade agreement with Australia. Bilateral trade in goods between the two partners has risen steadily in recent years, reaching almost EUR48 billion in 2017, and bilateral trade in services added an additional EUR27 billion. The negotiations aim to remove trade barriers, streamline standards and put European companies exporting to or doing business in Australia on equal footing with those from countries that have signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership or other trade agreements with Australia. The Council of the EU authorised opening negotiations for a trade agreement between the EU and Australia on May 22, 2018.

  2. EU-United States (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership): This agreement was expected to increase trade and services, but it is unlikely to pass under the Trump administration in the United States against the backdrop of rising global trade tensions.

  3. EU-Vietnam FTA: In July 2018, the EU and Vietnam agreed on final texts for the EU-Vietnam FTA and the EU-Vietnam Investment Protection Agreement (IPA). As of March 2019, the final text of the agreement has been finalised and is awaiting signature and conclusion.

Sources: WTO Regional Trade Agreements database, Fitch Solutions

7. Investment Policy

7.1 Foreign Direct Investment

Graph: Belgium FDI stock
Graph: Belgium FDI stock
 
Graph: Belgium FDI flow
Graph: Belgium FDI flow
 

Source: UNCTAD
Date last reviewed: May 14, 2019

7.2 Foreign Direct Investment Policy

  1. 'Invest In Belgium' is an agency promoting investment inflows and assisting international companies in finding business opportunities within the country. The agency provides practical details for investors in addition to general economic data about Belgium and a range of information about investment opportunities and the strengths of Belgium and its three regions. The three regions – Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia – all actively court FDI, with different incentives.

  2. Very few restrictions exist with regard to foreign investment in Belgium. Belgian policies facilitate the free flow of financial resources. For example, credit is allocated at market rates and is available to foreign and domestic investors without discrimination. Following the 2009 financial crisis, the Belgian government hardened credit conditions on the interbank market, somewhat limiting the rate of credit creation, but providing additional stability in the banking sector.

  3. There is not a minimum capital requirement in order to invest in Belgium, although certain types of companies require minimum capital input, for example:

    • EUR18,550 (for private limited liability companies)
    • EUR61,500 (for companies limited by shares)

  4. The Belgian government has introduced notional interest, allowing all companies subject to Belgian corporate tax to deduct from their taxable income an amount equal to the interest they would have paid on their capital (in the case of long-term debt financing). Additionally, the 0.5% registration fee on capital contributions has been abolished.

  5. Both the International Centre for settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and the International court of arbitration, International chamber of commerce (ICCWBO) are available to foreigners investing in Belgium for the purpose of resolving disagreements.

  6. There is no discrimination between domestic and foreign investors with respects to establishing business in almost all the economic sectors that are open to private investment.

  7. Belgium has 72 active Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) as of 2019, many of which were concluded prior to the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Belgium has BITs with Hong Kong and mainland China.

  8. The EU has in place 55 active Treaties with Investment Provisions (TIPs) with transnational entities such as:

    • Mercado Común Sudamericano (MERCOSUR)
    • Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN)
    • Central American Common Market (CACM)
    • Caribbean Community (CARICOM)
    • Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
    • Gulf Cooperation Community (GCC)
    • SADC
    • Common Market For East And Southern Africa (COMESA)
    • East African Community (EAC)
    • West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU)
    • African Union (AU)

  9. Although few explicit limits on investment are delineated, certain industries have stricter barriers to entry on account of the market structure (monopolistic markets, such as the lottery). The post office is a protected entity and is, therefore, off limits to foreign direct investment.

  10. Belgium ensures land owners compensation in the case of expropriation; however, such cases are rare.

  11. Both Belgian nationals and foreigners require permits to engage in the:

    • Selling of firearms and ammunition
    • Cutting and polishing of diamonds
    • Provision of security services
    • Broadcasting industry

  12. Some restrictions apply to the insurance and financial sectors, as well as food and pharmaceutical industries. The Belgian state also exercises control over sectors where it owns or controls the network infrastructure, including gas, water, electricity, railway and telecommunication.

Sources: WTO – Trade Policy Review, Fitch Solutions

7.3 Free Trade Zones And Investment Incentives

Free Trade Zone/Incentive Programme Main Incentives Available
Investment deductions A deduction from the tax base, in addition to normal depreciation on (among others):

- Qualifying patents
- Environmentally-friendly R&D investments
- Energy-saving investments.

SMEs can benefit from an increased investment deduction from 8% to 20% for assets acquired or created between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2019, party to the fulfilment of specific prerequisites.

The investment deduction can be carried forward without any limitation in time or in amount, of there are insufficient or no taxable profits. Some restrictions apply as to the maximum amount of investment deduction carried forward. The investment deduction carried forward can be lost after a change of ownership.

For patents and R&D, a company may opt for a tax credit for which the advantage corresponds to the advantage of the investment deduction, multiplied by the normal corporate income tax rate.

Sources: US Department of Commerce, Fitch Solutions

8. Taxation – 2019

  • Value Added Tax: 21%
  • Corporate Income Tax: 29%

Source: General Admnistration of Taxation, Belgium

8.1 Business Taxes

Type of Tax Tax Rate and Base
Corporate Income Tax
- 29% (between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2019)
- 25% (for tax periods starting after December 31, 2019)
- SMEs are taxed 20% on the first EUR100,000 of income (given certain conditions are met)
Value Added Tax
- Standard Rate: 21%
- 0%, 6% and 12% apply in certain cases
Withholding Tax: Royalties:
- Standard rate: 30%

Dividends:
- Standard rate: 30%

Interest:
- Standard rate: 30%
- 15% on certain specific government bonds and regulated savings deposits (fulfiling certain requirements)
Transfer Tax The transfer of immovable property (such as real estate) is subject to a tax ranging between 0.2% and 12.5%, depending on the type of transaction and the region in which the property is located.
Payroll Tax: social security Blue collar employees:
- 30.57% of 1.08 times an employee's gross salary (subject to payment by the employer)
- An additional yearly contribution of 10.27% of 1.08 times the employee's gross salary is also required

White collar employees:
- 25% of the employee's gross salary

Source: General Admnistration of Taxation, Belgium
Date last reviewed: May 14, 2019

9. Foreign Worker Requirements

9.1 Work Permit

EU member citizens do not require a work permit, but their employer must inform the job office about their employment. Citizens of the EEA (with EU member states, Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein) and Switzerland do not require a visa to enter, reside and work in the country.

No work permit is needed by foreigners from outside the EU if they have a permanent residence or family reunion permit, have been granted asylum, study in the country or have blue or green cards.

9.2 Obtaining Foreign Worker Permits

Individuals from non-EU countries require residence and work permits. The procedure to be granted a work permit includes a review of the local job market to ensure that there is no Belgian or EU job seekers available to fulfil the position. Employers must first apply for a permit to hire foreign workers. The vacant position must be reported to the local district Labour Office and cannot be changed at a later stage to fit the profile of a potential employee. The candidate must then apply for a work permit. The government issues the permit for a maximum of two years, which can be repeatedly prolonged, but always for a maximum of two years, and may be renewed as many times as needed. The permit process takes an average of one month.

9.3 Blue Card

Intended for the stay of a highly qualified employee. A foreigner holding a blue card may reside in the country and work in the job for which the blue card was issued, or change that job under the conditions defined. High qualification means a duly completed university education or higher professional education which has lasted for at least three years. The blue card is issued with the term of validity three months longer than the term for which the employment contract has been concluded, but for the maximum period of two years. The blue card can be extended. One of the conditions for issuing the blue card is a wage criterion – the employment contract must contain gross monthly or yearly wage at least at the rate of 1.5 multiple of the gross average annual wage.

10. Risks

10.1 Sovereign Credit Ratings


Rating (Outlook) Rating Date
Moody's As3 (Stable) 03/03/2017
Standard & Poor's AA (Stable) 25/11/2019
Fitch Ratings AA- (Stable) 05/04/2019

Sources: Moody's, Standard & Poor's, Fitch Ratings

10.2 Competitiveness and Efficiency Indicators


World Ranking
2017 2018 2019
Ease of Doing Business Index
42/190 52/190 45/190
Ease of Paying Taxes Index
66/190 59/190 60/190
Logistics Performance Index
N/A 3/160 N/A
Corruption Perception Index
16/180 17/180 N/A
IMD World Competitiveness 23/63 26/63 N/A

Sources: World Bank, IMD, Transparency International

10.3 Fitch Solutions Risk Indices


World Ranking
2017 2018 2019
Economic Risk Index
N/A 32/202 33/202
Short-Term Economic Risk Score 69.0 67.7 66.3
Long-Term Economic Risk Score 71.4 71.7 71.7
Political Risk Index
N/A 32/201 32/202
Short-Term Political Risk Score 67.9 67.9 67.9
Long-Term Political Risk Score 80.2 80.2 80.2
Operational Risk Index N/A
21/201 24/201
Operational Risk Score 73.1 72.5 72.4

Source: Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: May 14, 2019

10.4 Fitch Solutions Risk Summary

ECONOMIC RISK
The Belgian economy has enjoyed a relatively stronger economic recovery than other eurozone member states. However, high levels of integration – and, thus, exposure – suggests that the signs of a looming slowdown throughout the region will impact the country's economic position over the medium term. Domestic demand will also face headwinds amid rising unemployment, higher inflation and deteriorating business and consumer confidence. Although the current government is attempting to tackle fiscal and economic reforms, the national debt is still over 100% of GDP, putting the government's ability to spend highly dependent on investor sentiment. Nevertheless, growth will benefit from the labour market reforms currently being implemented by the government, which will ensure that productivity gains accelerate over the long term.

OPERATIONAL RISK
Belgium possesses a competitive labour market, despite the country’s relatively high labour costs. The country's strategic geographic location and strong standing in the EU makes it an attractive destination for services, advanced manufacturing, and high value-added industries. This is aided by Belgium's sophisticated transport infrastructure, strong rule of law and the low barriers to trade. This incentivises exports to regional peers and major transhipment hubs – such as Rotterdam. Despite having a relatively burdensome tax regime, the country's economy is highly liberalised and open to foreign investors.

Source: Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: May 14, 2019

10.5 Fitch Solutions Political and Economic Risk Indices

Graph: Belgium short term political risk index
Graph: Belgium short term political risk index
 
Graph: Belgium long term political risk index
Graph: Belgium long term political risk index
 
Graph: Belgium short term economic risk index
Graph: Belgium short term economic risk index
 
Graph: Belgium long term economic risk index
Graph: Belgium long term economic risk index
 

100 = Lowest risk; 0 = Highest risk
Source: Fitch Solutions Economic and Political Risk Indices
Date last reviewed: May 14, 2019

10.6 Fitch Solutions Operational Risk Index


Operational Risk Labour Market Risk Trade and Investment Risk Logistics Risk Crime and Security Risk
Belgium score 72.4
58.2 72.8 83.2 75.3
Developed States Average 73.5 64.6
71.3 76.3
81.8
Developed States Position (out of 27) 19
21 13 6
23
Global average 49.7 50.3
49.8 49.0 49.8
Global Position (out of 201) 24
53
20
6 32

100 = Lowest risk; 0 = Highest risk
Source: Fitch Solutions Operational Risk Index

Graph: Belgium vs global and regional averages
Graph: Belgium vs global and regional averages
 
Country
Operational Risk Index
Labour Market Risk Index
Trade and Investment Risk Index Logistics Risk
Index
Crime and Security Risk Index
Denmark 80.8 74.8 76.2 88.3 84.0
Netherlands 80.3 65.9 78.2 88.6 88.4
Switzerland 79.9 75.0 77.6 75.1 91.8
Sweden
79.3 67.7 78.1 87.5 83.8
New Zealand 77.7 73.7 75.7 72.1 89.4
United Kingdom 77.6 71.4 79.0
78.5 81.3
United States 77.5 81.3 75.3 82.9 70.5
Norway 77.3 64.0 72.2 80.8 92.3
Canada 77.1 74.3 75.4 76.7 82.1
Finland
76.1 55.8 74.1 83.4 91.2
Austria 75.4 60.8 71.9 80.5 88.3
Luxembourg 75.2 54.2 77.6 80.0 88.9
Japan 75.1 72.4 65.5 77.9 84.7
Ireland 74.8 66.8 78.0 72.0 82.5
Germany 74.3 65.5 69.0 81.2 81.7
Australia 73.1 67.8 72.1 68.3 84.3
Spain 72.6 59.4 68.9 80.9 81.3
France 72.5 60.1 71.1 83.2 75.5
Belgium 72.4 58.2 72.8 83.2 75.3
Portugal 71.0 51.7 66.5 80.9 85.0
Iceland 71.0 60.6 67.2 69.6 86.6
Liechtenstein 70.5 59.8 78.1 61.5 82.6
Israel 67.4 71.4 64.6 71.1 62.4
Malta 66.2 54.9 69.0 60.8 80.1
Isle of Man 65.8 69.1 62.4 49.3 82.3
Italy 64.8 54.5 59.7 76.2 68.7
Greece 58.9 54.2 49.2 68.9 63.2
Regional Averages 73.5 64.6 71.3 76.3 81.8
Emerging Markets Averages 46.0 48.1 46.5 44.7 44.8
Global Markets Averages 49.7 50.3 49.8 49.0 49.8

100 = Lowest risk; 0 = Highest risk
Source: Fitch Solutions Operational Risk Index
Date last reviewed: May 14, 2019

11. Hong Kong Connection

11.1 Hong Kong’s Trade with Belgium

Graph: Major export commodities to Belgium (2018)
Graph: Major export commodities to Belgium (2018)
 
Graph: Major import commodities from Belgium (2018)
Graph: Major import commodities from Belgium (2018)
 

Note: Graph shows the main Hong Kong exports to/imports from Belgium (by consignment)
Date last reviewed: May 14, 2019

Graph: Merchandise exports to Belgium
Graph: Merchandise exports to Belgium
 
Graph: Merchandise imports from Belgium
Graph: Merchandise imports from Belgium
 

Note: Graph shows Hong Kong exports to/imports from Belgium (by consignment)
Exchange Rate HK$/US$, average
7.76 (2014)
7.75 (2015)
7.76 (2016)
7.79 (2017)
7.83 (2018)
Sources: Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: May 14, 2019


2017
Growth rate (%)
Number of Belgian residents visiting Hong Kong 30,805 -2.5

Sources: Hong Kong Tourism Board, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs – Population Division


2017
Growth rate (%)
Number of European residents visiting Hong Kong 1,929,824 -0.2
Number of developed states citizens residing in Hong Kong 65,680 1.6

Sources: Hong Kong Tourism Board, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs – Population Division
Date last reviewed: May 14, 2019

11.2 Commercial Presence in Hong Kong


2018
Growth rate (%)
Number of Belgian companies in Hong Kong N/A
N/A
- Regional headquarters
- Regional offices
- Local offices


11.3 Treaties and agreements between Hong Kong and Belgium

Belgium and Hong Kong signed a comprehensive double tax agreement in 2003, with the agreement coming into effect in 2004.

Source: Hong Kong Inland Revenue Department

11.4 Chamber of Commerce or Related Organisations

The European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong
Address: Room 1302, 13/F, 168 Queen’s Road, Central, Hong Kong
Tel:  (852) 2511 5133
Fax: (852) 2511 6833

Source: The European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong

Belgium-Hong Kong Society
Email: info@bhks.be / steel@psi-europe.be
Tel: (32) 0 2775 0093
Website: www.bhks.be
Please click to view more information.

Source: Federation of Hong Kong Business Associations Worldwide

Consulate General of Belgium in Hong Kong
Address: 9/F, St. John's Building, 33 Garden Road, Central, Hong Kong
Email: HongKong@diplobel.fed.be
Tel: (852) 2524 3111
Fax: (852) 2868 5997

Source: Consulate General of Belgium in Hong Kong

11.5 Visa Requirements for Hong Kong Residents

Hong Kong residents can travel to the Schengen Zone without a visa. They can travel for tourism and business purposes and remain in the region for a period of up to 90 days.

Source: Consulate General of Belgium in Hong Kong
Date last reviewed: May 14, 2019

Content provided by Picture: Fitch Solutions – BMI Research
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