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Belgium - Overview

Contents extracted from the comprehensive atlas of international trade by Export Entreprises

Introduction

Capital:: Brussels
Area:: 31 km2
Total Population:: 11.128
Annual growth rate:: 1.00%
Density:: 368.00/km2
Urban population:: 98%
Population of Brussels (1.740), Antwerp (948), Gent (233), Bruges (117)
Official language: Dutch, French and German. In Belgium, 5.6 million people speak Dutch, 3.5 million speak French and about 50,000 people speak German.
Other languages spoken: Indigenous languages, recognized since 1990, such as Walloon, and immigrant languages, such as Arabic, Spanish and Turkish.
Business language: French, German or English (common business language with Flemish people).
Ethnic Origins:: Around 10 % are foreigners in Belgium: 68% from EU, 10% from Morocco, 5% from Turkey and 17% from other countries.
58% of the population is Flemish, 31% is Walloon, 11% Brussels.
Beliefs: Catholics 95.9%, Others 4.1%
Telephone codes:
To make a call from: 0
To make a call to: +32
Internet suffix:: .be
Type of State::
Belgium is a federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch.
Type of economy::
High-income economy, OECD member
An economy dependent on foreign trade.

Economic overview

After having contracted, the Belgian GDP growth returned to positive numbers in 2013 (0.1%), supported by the resumption of exports, private consumption and measures adopted to deal with the crisis in the eurozone. A recovery is expected in 2014 (1.1%) while the European economy will continue to recover and domestic consumption will improve.

Given that the state debt is going to exceed 100% of the GDP in 2014, debt reduction is the goverment's absolute priority. The coalition government is planning to save 22 billion euro and structural reforms are no doubt going to be necessary, in addition to the wage freeze and the reduction of employer's social contributions which have already been implemented. The government is also expected to adopt a reform of the labor market, especially in order to encourage the employment of persons aged 65+ (the retirement age) and measures to reduce the high cost of labour. The general election, which is planned for May, is likely to provoke community tensions. Belgium is a prosperous country with one of the highest GDP per capita rate in the world. Nevertheless, regional disparities remain strong; Wallonia faces a worrying problem of structural unemployment.

The country's rate of unemployment, estimated at 8.8% in 2013, should further increase and affects especially the young.

Main industries

The Belgian economy is largely orientated towards services. In fact, the tertiary sector accounts for almost three fourths of the national wealth. Brussels, which is home to several European institutions, numerous diplomatic missions and different interest groups, has created an economy which is based essentially on services.

The industrial sector accounts for practically a fourth of the GDP. There are significant discrepancies between the three Belgian regions. While Flanders has succeeded in developing the second largest petro-chemical sector in the world, Wallonia is in the middle of restructuring, following the closure of several collieries and a large number of steel industries.

Brussels distinguishes itself in the areas of telecommunication, software development and in pharmaceutical and automobile industry.

Agriculture contributes a small amount to the Belgian economy.

Foreign trade overview

The Belgian economy is particularly open, foreign trade representing nearly 165% of GDP (WTO, average for 2010-2012). In addition to being an export champion, Belgium also plays an important role as a transit and distribution center for the other countries of the European Union.

Belgium's trade deficit, which deepened in 2011-2012 under the effects of the crisis of the eurozone, improved in 2013 thanks to the resumption of exports and a slower global rise in imports. The trade balance should continue to improve in 2014. 

Belgian international trade is primarily done within the European Union (nearly 80% of exports and imports). Its main trading partners are the Netherlands, Germany, France, Great Britain and the United States.

FDI

Belgium has been among the countries most affected by the transfers of funds of multinational companies, which means that FDI infows and outflows are highly volatile, as pointed out by the annual World Investment Report for 2014 published by the UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development). FDI flows are expected to recover in 2014.

Among the attractions of Belgian economy are: its strategic geographical position, at the crossroads of the main European markets; its high-quality transport, logistics and telecommunications infrastructure; its businesses specialized in the supply of intermediate and semi-finished goods; its multilingual and qualified workforce and a strong purchasing power.

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