Economics and Business in Belgium

By | June 12, 2019

Belgium’s economy is the 11th largest economy in the world. In 2016, Belgium exported US $ 902 billion and imported US $ 858 billion and achieved a net trade balance of US $ 43.3 billion. Gross domestic product was $ 466 billion.

The Belgian economy is varied and modern and can be largely explained by the country’s rapid and early industrialization, favorable geographical location and well-functioning transport network. Due to the country’s central location, well-developed infrastructure and dominant role in the EU, many international organizations and companies have established themselves in Belgium. The most important export goods are food products, cars, petroleum products and textiles. The country is also known for its production of exclusive chocolate and a rich selection of different beers. More than 80 per cent of the raw materials for the industry must be imported. The well-functioning services sector accounts for almost 70 per cent of GDP.

There is a big difference between the economy in the north and south: The northern port city of Antwerp has modern, export-oriented industry, while the economy in Brussels further south is dominated by services and financial institutions. After the decline in demand for the country’s export goods in the early 1980s, the country entered a long economic downturn. Economic developments have generally favored the northern parts of the country ( Flanders ) at the expense of the southern parts ( Wallonia), where the formerly dominant mining and heavy industry has long been in decline. Large foreign debt and an old-fashioned industry led to several problems. The government initiated extensive reforms in the 1990s, which improved the economy. In recent years, Belgium has been affected by the recession in the world economy, but the Belgian economy is still stronger than many countries in the eurozone.

The heavy industry

The heavy industry is particularly concentrated in the Sambre – Meused Valley. The picture shows a chemical plant near Charleroi.

Agriculture and fishing

About 44 percent of Belgium’s land is used for agricultural purposes. Of this, about half are cultivated land, the rest meadow and pasture. Employment in the primary industry fell by about one-third from 2000 to 2010 and in 2015 constituted about 1 per cent.

Wheat, rye and oats are preferably grown in the campy soil of central Belgium. Some wheat and barley are also grown on the poles and plains of Flanders, and in the Ardennes. Rye and oats are most common in Kempenland. In Flanders, root crops and flax and hops are also grown. Central Belgium is the main area for sugar beets and industrial growth such as flax, hops and chicory. Around the larger cities is an extensive horticulture with growing vegetables, greenhouse plants, fruits and berries. In all parts of the country there are pastures and livestock dominate in the Ardennes and in Belgian Lorraine. Especially cattle and pigs are kept.

The port of Antwerp

The port of Antwerp is one of the largest in Europe, serving most of Belgium’s exports and imports. In the photo, Onze Lieve Vrouwe Cathedral is seen in the background.


Forests cover about 20 percent of the country. The largest forests are located in the Ardennes, where pine, spruce and larch trees are the most important species of wood, and in Kempen, where pine dominates. The wood is used in the furniture industry and in the construction industry. However, the production of timber is not sufficient, and timber for timber is imported, including from the Nordic countries.


The fishery is modest, and is operated on the fishing banks in the North Sea and the Atlantic. Ostend is home to most of the fishing fleet, the rest operates from Zeebrugge and Nieuwpoort. The catches are mostly flounderfish and cod. The number of employees in the fishing industry has steadily declined beyond the 2000s.


Belgium has relatively small mineral resources. The country has long had a significant coal industry, but production, which once produced 30 million tonnes a year, has ceased. The coalfields along the Sambre – Meuse, which formed the basis for industrialization in Wallonia in the 19th century, are largely depleted. More recently, the largest quantities of coal were mined in Kempen, Limburg, where deposits have been exploited since 1917. These have also been closed down in recent years. Belgium’s last coal mine was closed in 1992. Iron ore, which was long mined farthest north in the Ardennes, and further south where deposits in Luxembourg and Lorraine extend into Belgium, will soon be no more left. Less deposits of lead and zincthe Ardennes are no longer viable. The deposits of sand, found north of Charleroi and in Kempen, form the basis for a significant glass industry.


The Belgian industry was originally based on coal, first from the deposits at Sambre – Meuse, then from Kempen. Later, imported energy from oil, natural gas and coal replaced domestic energy production. In 2016, the import share was 86 per cent of a total primary energy consumption of 2.37 exa joule (EJ). Per capita consumption was 209 GJ.

In 2013, the production of electrical energy was 83 TWh, of which 40.1 TWh (48.4 per cent) was nuclear power. Other forms of power generation are based on natural gas (22.4 TWh), coal (2.3 TWh) and renewable energy (16.5 TWh), which are mainly in the form of wind energy (6.5 TWh) and solar energy (3 TWh). The final consumption per capita was 7 967 kWh in 2017.


A significant part of the industry is based on the processing of imported raw materials for further export, and there is also a large metallurgical (especially iron and steel ) industry, diamond grinding, food and textile industries.

significant automotive industry

Belgium has a significant automotive industry. The picture is from the production of Ford Mondeo.

The most important industrial areas are at the old coalfields along the Sambre – Meuse. However, imports of raw materials by sea have led to considerable industrial travel closer to the coast. The metal industry in the Liège area has traditions dating back to the Middle Ages. Belgium’s first smelting furnaces were opened at Seraing in 1825. The iron and steel industry later spread west towards Charleroi and further on to the French border. An almost continuous line of industrial cities emerged along the Sambre-Meuse, which for this reason has been called Belgium’s “Black Country”. Heavy industry, with iron and steel mills, foundries, machine factories, glassworks and refining plants for zinc and copper, is still concentrated in the areas around Liège and Charleroi, as well as the Borinage area with Mons as the center. Steelworks are also found at Clabecq in Walloon Brabant and Charleroi, and in Zelzate by the Ghent – ​​Terneuzen Canal north of Ghent.

Based on the primary metal production, a significant workshop industry has been built up. The automotive industry is located in Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, Lier, Genk, Mons and Namur, among others; shipbuilding in Antwerp; machinery and metal products in Liège, Charleroi, Brussels and Antwerp. The petrochemical industry is concentrated in Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent, the chemical industry also in Brussels, Antwerp and Namur. The textile industry has long traditions in Flanders. The linen production has its center in Kortrijk, Ghent is known for the production of cotton and synthetic fibers. The wool industry is concentrated in Verviers in the eastern part of the country. There is also a substantial clothing industry. The food industry is mostly close to Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent.

The secondary industry employed 22 percent of the workforce in 2015.


Tourism is one of the most important industries in Belgium and more than 6.4 million people visit the country in 2014. 48 per cent visited Flanders, 40 per cent Brussels and 12 per cent Wallonia. The largest groups came from the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom and Germany, and many tourists combine the visit with work trips.

Belgium has many cities of historical and cultural significance. Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, Leuven, Waterloo and Tornai and others, and the fine hiking terrain in the Ardennes as well as the towns along the coast attract many tourists.

The tertiary industry employed 77 percent of the workforce in 2015.

Foreign Trade

Belgium is very dependent on foreign trade. The country imports raw materials and exports finished goods. Imports exceeded the export value in the period 1975-85, but have subsequently been roughly balanced or there has been an export surplus. The country’s most important export goods are machinery and transport equipment and chemicals and pharmaceuticals as well as foodstuffs. Machinery and transport equipment are the main import goods. About. 75% of exports and 70% of imports are with other EU countries.

Belgium’s most important trading partners in 2016 for export are:

  • Germany ($ 66.4 billion)
  • France ($ 61.3 billion)
  • The Netherlands (USD 44.7 billion)
  • United Kingdom (US $ 35.4 billion)
  • US ($ 23.0 billion)

The most important export goods are cars, pharmaceuticals, diamonds and oil products.

Belgium’s most important trading partners in 2016 for imports are:

  • The Netherlands ($ 45.9 billion)
  • Germany ($ 45.8 billion)
  • France ($ 33.2 billion)
  • US ($ 32.1 billion)
  • Ireland ($ 16.2 billion)

The most important import goods are cars, medicines, diamonds, oil products and blood.

Transport and Communications

Belgium has one of the densest road and rail networks in the world. The most important transport years follow the Charleroi – Brussels – Antwerp axis and the Sambre – Meuse valley from northern France over Charleroi and Liège to Aachen in Germany.

The Belgian canal system is not as comprehensive as the Dutch, but it plays an important role in transporting fuel, stone, sand, ore, timber and other heavy loads. The channel network, which was modernized in the 1960s, links Antwerp, Brussels, Charleroi, Namur, Ghent and Liège. The Albert Canal, which crosses Kempenland, was completed only in 1940, and has been of great importance to Antwerp’s development.

The port of Antwerp, which has been significantly modernized in recent years, is one of Europe’s most important ports, and the port serves not only Belgium, but also large parts of France and Germany. The port facility comprises 98 kilometers of quays and 17 dry docks. About 80 percent of Belgium’s foreign trade goes over the port of Antwerp. Ferry traffic to England is preferably over Ostend and Zeebrugge.

The main international airport is at Brussels. By the way, there are international airports in Antwerp, Charleroi, Liège and Ostend. Belgium’s national airline SABENA went bankrupt in 2001, but parts of the business were continued through DAT and later SN Brussels Airlines. The company merged with Virgin Express in 2006 and was acquired by Lufthansa in 2009 and operated as Brussels Airlines.