Belgium’s Top 10 Exports

Belgium’s Top Exports

by Free Country Flags

Belgium shipped US$398 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2016, up by 6.7% since 2009 when the Great Recession kicked in but down by -0.5% from 2015 to 2016.

Belgium’s top 10 exports accounted for about two-thirds (65.5%) of the overall value of its global shipments.

Based on statistics from the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook Database, Belgium’s total Gross Domestic Product amounted to $508.6 billion as of October 2016. Therefore, exports accounted for about 77.8% of total Belgian economic output.

From a continental perspective, 73.9% of Belgian exports by value are delivered to other European countries while 11.5% are sold to Asian importers. Belgium ships another 6.6% worth to North American clients while 3.2% arrives in Africa.

Given Belgium’s population of 11.4 million people, its total $398 billion in 2016 exports translates to roughly $34,700 for every resident in that country.

Belgium’s unemployment rate was 7.7% as of January 2017 down from 7.9% one year earlier, according to Trading Economics.

Belgium’s Top 10 Exports

Top 10

The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Belgian global shipments during 2016. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Belgium. At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, motor cars are the number one Belgian export product followed by drugs and medicines for therapeutic or prophylactic purposes, refined petroleum oils and diamonds.

  1. Vehicles: US$45 billion (11.4% of total exports)
  2. Pharmaceuticals: $41.8 billion (10.6%)
  3. Organic chemicals: $29.4 billion (7.4%)
  4. Machinery including computers: $28.9 billion (7.3%)
  5. Mineral fuels including oil: $27.3 billion (6.9%)
  6. Plastics, plastic articles: $26.9 billion (6.8%)
  7. Gems, precious metals: $18.7 billion (4.7%)
  8. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $13.9 billion (3.5%)
  9. Electrical machinery, equipment: $13.7 billion (3.5%)
  10. Iron, steel: $13.3 billion (3.4%)

Optical, technical and medical equipment was the fastest-growing top product category up 57.1% from 2009 to 2016.

In second place was gems and precious metals up 37.5%, mainly driven by improved global sales of diamonds and gold.

The value of Belgium’s exported vehicles gained 28.4%. Organic chemicals followed with an 8.4% increase.

Leading the decliners was the pharmaceuticals category, down in value by -16.5% over the 7-year period. Belgian exported iron and steel depreciated by -8.6% followed by the -8.1% drop for international sales of electrical machinery and equipment.


The following types of Belgian product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports. In a nutshell, net exports is the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.

Overall, Belgium posted a $28.8-billion trade surplus in 2016 up 77.1% from its $16.3-billion positive balance for 2009. Below are the top product-specific surpluses for Belgium.

  1. Plastics, plastic articles: US$10.5 billion (Down by -2.5% since 2009)
  2. Pharmaceuticals: $7.3 billion (Down by -28.7%)
  3. Iron, steel: $3.9 billion (Down by -26.9%)
  4. Footwear: $2.1 billion (Up by 157.1%)
  5. Meat: $2 billion (Down by -9.5%)
  6. Other chemical goods: $2 billion (Down by -9.5%)
  7. Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $1.9 billion (Up by 46.2%)
  8. Cereal/milk preparations: $1.8 billion (Up by 59.6%)
  9. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $1.8 billion (Down by -378.8%)
  10. Tanning, dyes, paints, varnishes, ink: $1.6 billion (Up by 10.5%)

Belgium has highly positive net exports in the international trade of plastic materials and articles. In turn, these cashflows indicate Belgium’s strong competitive advantages under the plastics product category.


Below are exports from Belgium that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Belgium’s goods trail Belgian importer spending on foreign products.

  1. Mineral fuels including oil: -US$10.1 billion (Down by -35.3% since 2009)
  2. Electrical machinery, equipment: -$2.8 billion (Down by -25.0%)
  3. Machinery including computers: -$1.6 billion (Up by 55.7%)
  4. Vehicles : -$1.3 billion (Down by -23.4%)
  5. Ores, slag, ash: -$1.3 billion (Up by 127.2%)
  6. Cereals: -$1.2 billion (Up by 9.3%)
  7. Furniture, bedding, lighting , signs, prefab buildings: -$1.1 billion (Up by 51.2%)
  8. Oil seeds: -$1.1 billion (Down by -2.1%)
  9. Copper: -$974.1 million (Up by 606.9%)
  10. Fruits, nuts: -$863.8 million (Up by 105.8%)

Belgium has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels-related products, in particular crude oil and petroleum gases.

These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Belgium’s competitive disadvantages in the international energy market, but also represent key opportunities for Belgium to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations.


Belgian Export Companies

Belgium placed 11 corporations among the Forbes Global 2000 for 2015. Below is a sample of major Belgian export companies that Forbes ranked:

  • Anheuser-Busch InBev (beverages)
  • Solvay (diversified chemicals)
  • Belgacom (telecommunications services)
  • Delhaize Group (food retail)
  • UCB (pharmaceuticals)
  • Umicore (diversified metals, mining)

According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following smaller companies are also examples of Belgian export companies:

  • Fiat Services Sadi Belgium (automobiles)
  • BBL Shipping Belgium (mechanical shovels, excavators, shovel loaders)
  • TPSA Co Tupperware Belgium (rubber/plastic molds, plastic boxes/cases/crates)
  • DHL Danzas Air Ocean Belgium (rubber/plastic molds, plastic boxes/cases, mechanical shovels)

Belgium’s capital city is Brussels.

Please note that the results listed above are at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level.

See also Belgium’s Top 10 Imports, Belgium’s Top Trading Partners, Highest Value Belgian Import Products and Highest Value Belgian Export Products

Research Sources:
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on March 26, 2017

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on March 26, 2017

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on March 26, 2017

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 26, 2017

Wikipedia, List of Companies of Belgium. Accessed on March 23, 2016

Forbes 2015 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 26, 2017

Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on March 23, 2016