Belgium’s Top 10 Exports

Belgium’s Top Exports

by Free Country Flags

Belgium shipped US$429.3 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2017, down by -16.1% since 2013 but up by 7.9% from 2016 to 2017.

Based on estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, Belgium’s exported goods plus services represent 87.7% of total Belgian economic output or Gross Domestic Product. The analysis below focuses on exported products only.

From a continental perspective, three-quarters (75.3%) of Belgian exports by value were delivered to fellow European countries while 11.8% were sold to Asian importers. Belgium shipped another 5.8% worth to North American clients while 3.3% arrived in Africa with 1.6% going to Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean.

Given Belgium’s population of 11.5 million people, its total $429.3 billion in 2017 exports translates to roughly $37,400 for every resident in that country.

Belgium’s unemployment rate was 6.6% as of January 2018 down from 7.7% 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 2017. 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, refined petroleum oils then diamonds.

  1. Vehicles: US$49.2 billion (11.5% of total exports)
  2. Pharmaceuticals: $42.9 billion (10%)
  3. Mineral fuels including oil: $36 billion (8.4%)
  4. Machinery including computers: $30.3 billion (7%)
  5. Plastics, plastic articles: $29.8 billion (6.9%)
  6. Organic chemicals: $28.8 billion (6.7%)
  7. Gems, precious metals: $17.5 billion (4.1%)
  8. Iron, steel: $17.5 billion (4.1%)
  9. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $14.7 billion (3.4%)
  10. Electrical machinery, equipment: $14.5 billion (3.4%)

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

Mineral fuels including oil was the fastest-growing top product category up 30.4% from 2016 to 2017.

In second place was iron and steel via a 30.2% gain.

The value of Belgium’s exported plastics and items made from plastic gained 9.3%. Belgian vehicles exports followed with an 8.9% year-over-year increase.

The two decliners were gems and precious metals (down -6.3%) and organic chemicals (down -7.7%).


Overall Belgium posted a $26.4-billion trade surplus in 2017, up 4.4% from its $25.3-billion positive balance for 2016. Below are the top product-specific surpluses for Belgium.

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.

  1. Plastics, plastic articles: US$10.9 billion (Up by 5.3% since 2016)
  2. Pharmaceuticals: $8 billion (Up by 13.4%)
  3. Iron, steel: $4.7 billion (Up by 21.4%)
  4. Gems, precious metals: $2.4 billion (Up by 106.6%)
  5. Footwear: $2.3 billion (Up by 15.6%)
  6. Meat: $2.2 billion (Up by 13.3%)
  7. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $2.1 billion (Up by 25.5%)
  8. Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $2 billion (Up by 9.9%)
  9. Cereal/milk preparations: $2 billion (Up by 7.8%)
  10. Tanning, dyes, paints, varnishes, ink: $1.9 billion (Up by 16.8%)

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$12.3 billion (Up by 20.2% since 2016)
  2. Electrical machinery, equipment: -$3.2 billion (Up by 12%)
  3. Vehicles : -$2.8 billion (Up by 53.2%)
  4. Machinery including computers: -$2.2 billion (Up by 9.2%)
  5. Ores, slag, ash: -$1.9 billion (Up by 52.3%)
  6. Organic chemicals: -$1.7 billion (Reversing a $547.3 million surplus)
  7. Cereals: -$1.5 billion (Up by 15.9%)
  8. Copper: -$1.2 billion (Up by 21.1%)
  9. Furniture, bedding, lighting , signs, prefab buildings: -$1.1 billion (Down by -6.4%)
  10. Oil seeds: -$1.1 billion (Down by -4.5%)

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. 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)

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 and Top EU Export Countries

Research Sources:
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on March 23, 2018

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on March 23, 2018

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on March 23, 2018

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 23, 2018

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 23, 2018

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