The Kingdom of Belgium shipped US$444.6 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects an 11.8% increase since 2015 but a -4.7% drop from 2018 to 2019.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2019, Belgium uses the euro which appreciated by 0.9% against the US dollar since 2015 but declined by -5.5% from 2018 to 2019. The weaker EU currency in 2019 made Belgium’s exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers compared to 2018.
The latest available country-specific data shows that three-quarters (74.7%) of products exported from Belgium were bought by importers in: Germany (17.9% of the global total), France (14.1%), Netherlands (12.0%), United Kingdom (7.6%), United States (6.2%), Italy (5%), Spain (2.8%), Poland (2.2%), China (1.8%), Luxembourg (also 1.8%), India (1.7%) and Sweden (1.6%).
From a continental perspective, 75.9% of Belgium’s exports by value were delivered to fellow European countries while 10.4% were sold to importers in Asia. Belgium shipped another 7.5% worth of goods to North America. Smaller percentages went to Africa (3.3%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (1.4%) then Oceania led by Australia and New Zealand (0.5%).
Given Belgium’s population of 11.5 million people, its total $444.6 billion in 2019 exports translates to roughly $38,800 for every resident in the west European country.
Belgium’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Belgian global shipments during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Belgium.
- Vehicles: US$55.4 billion (12.5% of total exports)
- Pharmaceuticals: $52.7 billion (11.9%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $36.7 billion (8.2%)
- Machinery including computers: $31.4 billion (7.1%)
- Organic chemicals: $30.6 billion (6.9%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $30.1 billion (6.8%)
- Gems, precious metals: $18.0 billion (4%)
- Iron, steel: $17 billion (3.8%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $15.5 billion (3.5%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $13.1 billion (2.9%)
Belgium’s top 10 exports accounted for roughly two-thirds (67.6%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Three top product categories increased from 2018 to 2019 namely pharmaceuticals (up 10.7%), vehicles (up 7%) and electrical machinery and equipment (up 3%).
The leading decliner among Belgium’s top 10 export categories was organic chemicals thanks to an -18.7% drop year over year.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level, cars (8.5% of total) are Belgium’s number one export product. In second place were drugs and medicines (6.3%) followed by refined petroleum oils (6.1%), blood fractions including antisera (5%), unmounted diamonds (2.6%), heterocyclics and nucleic acids (2.1%), automobile parts and accessories (1.5%) then electro-medical equipment including xrays (1.3%).
Overall Belgium posted an $18.4 billion trade surplus for 2019, up by 12.9% from $16.3 billion in black ink one year earlier.
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 represent 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.
- Plastics, plastic articles: US$11.3 billion (Down by -15.7% since 2018)
- Pharmaceuticals: $7.1 billion (Down by -0.7%)
- Iron, steel: $5 billion (Up by 3.1%)
- Other chemical goods: $2.6 billion (Up by 8.2%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $2.5 billion (Up by 18.8%)
- Gems, precious metals: $2.3 billion (Up by 126%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: $2.1 billion (Down by -5.3%)
- Meat: $1.8 billion (Down by -13.1%)
- Footwear: $1.8 billion (Down by -20%)
- Soaps, washing preparations, lubricants, waxes: $1.6 billion (Up by 2.1%)
Belgium has highly positive net exports in the international trade of plastic materials and goods made from plastic. 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.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$14.3 billion (Down by -25% since 2018)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$6.8 billion (Up by 83.7%)
- Machinery including computers: -$2.3 billion (Up by 37.8%)
- Cereals: -$1.6 billion (Up by 4.4%)
- Vehicles: -$1.6 billion (Down by -66.1%)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$1.5 billion (Down by -22.8%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricated buildings: -$1.3 billion (Up by 15.1%)
- Oil seeds: -$1.1 billion (Down by -5.2%)
- Fruits, nuts: -$933.4 million (Down by -22.5%)
- Fish: -$884.4 million (Down by -3.3%)
Belgium has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels-related products, in particular crude oil, petroleum gases and electricity.
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. Below is a sample of major Belgian export companies that Forbes ranked.
- Anheuser-Busch InBev (beverages)
- Belgacom (telecommunications services)
- Delhaize Group (food retail)
- Solvay (diversified chemicals)
- UCB (pharmaceuticals)
- Umicore (diversified metals, mining)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following smaller companies are also examples of Belgian export companies.
- BBL Shipping Belgium (mechanical shovels, excavators, shovel loaders)
- DHL Danzas Air Ocean Belgium (rubber/plastic molds, plastic boxes/cases, mechanical shovels)
- Fiat Services Sadi Belgium (automobiles)
- TPSA Co Tupperware Belgium (rubber/plastic molds, plastic boxes/cases/crates)
In macroeconomic terms, Belgium’s total exported goods represent 78.3% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($567.5 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 78.3% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2019 compares to 84.8% for 2018 This suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Belgium’s total economic performance albeit based on a short timeframe. Also note that Belgium’s export metrics include a significant amount of re-exporting activity.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Belgium’s unemployment rate was 5.7% at April 2019, down from 6.3% one year earlier according to Trading Economics.
Belgium’s capital city is Brussels.
See also Belgium’s Top 10 Imports, Belgium’s Top Trading Partners and Top EU Export Countries
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on March 21, 2020
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 21, 2020
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on March 21, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on March 21, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on March 21, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 21, 2020
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on March 21, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Belgium. Accessed on March 21, 2020
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on March 21, 2020
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on March 21, 2020