Year over year, the overall value of Belgian exports accelerated by 30.5% from $419.5 billion during 2020.
At the detailed 4-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, the 5 most valuable exported products from Belgium are blood fractions including antisera, medication mixes in dosage, cars, processed petroleum oils, and unmounted diamonds. Collectively, that group of top Belgian exports generated almost a third (31%) of the country’s total international sales in 2021.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2021, Belgium’s official currency is the euro which appreciated by 5% against the US dollar since 2017 and strengthened by 3.9% from 2020 to 2021. The stronger European Union currency in 2021 made Belgium’s exports paid for in weaker US dollars relatively more expensive for international buyers.
Belgium’s Main Trading Partners
The latest available country-specific data shows that 73.7% of products exported from Belgium were bought by importers in: Germany (19.8% of the global total), France (15.2%), Netherlands (13%), United States of America (6.4%), Italy (5.1%), Spain (3.1%), Poland (2.7%), China (1.85%), Sweden (1.81%), Japan (1.75%), Luxembourg (1.6%) and Turkey (1.4%).
From a continental perspective, almost three-quarters (74.1%) of Belgian exports by value were delivered to fellow European countries while 12.1% were sold to importers in Asia. Belgium shipped another 7.7% worth of goods to North America.
Smaller percentages went to Africa (3.7%), Latin America (1.6%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, then Oceania (0.7%) led by Australia and New Zealand.
Given Belgium’s population of 11.6 million people, its total $547.5 billion in 2021 exports translates to roughly $xxx for every resident in the west European country. $36,200
Belgium’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Belgian global shipments during 2021. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Belgium.
- Pharmaceuticals: US$96.3 billion (17.6% of total exports)
- Vehicles: $51.7 billion (9.4%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $51.5 billion (9.4%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $39 billion (7.1%)
- Machinery including computers: $34.9 billion (6.4%)
- Organic chemicals: $29.9 billion (5.5%)
- Gems, precious metals: $22.3 billion (4.1%)
- Iron, steel: $21.5 billion (3.9%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $18.2 billion (3.3%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $14.2 billion (2.6%)
Belgium’s top 10 exports accounted for over two-thirds (69.3%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Mineral fuels including oil represents the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 109.2% from 2020 to 2021.
In second place for improving export sales were the metals iron and steel via a 57% upturn.
Belgium’s shipments of pharmaceuticals posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 56.8%.
The most modest increase among Belgium’s top 10 export categories was for exported vehicles thanks to a 3.9% improvement in international sales.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level, Belgium’s most valuable exported products were blood fractions including antisera (11.1% of Belgian total exports), medication mixes in dosage (6%), cars (5.81%), processed petroleum oils (5.78%), unmounted and unset diamonds (2.3%), petroleum gases (2.2%), automobile parts or accessories (1.5%), ethylene polymers (1.3%), unwrought platinum (1.1%) then electro-medical equipment including xrays (also 1.1%).
Products Generating Greatest Trade Surpluses for Belgium
Overall Belgium posted a $31 billion trade surplus for 2021, up by 31% from $23.6 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.
- Pharmaceuticals: US$35 billion (Up by 249.9% since 2020)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $15.1 billion (Up by 44.8%)
- Iron, steel: $3.5 billion (Down by -13.9%)
- Footwear: $2.6 billion (Up by 0.2%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $2.4 billion (Up by 10.5%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: $2.4 billion (Up by 21.4%)
- Gems, precious metals: $2.2 billion (Up by 105.6%)
- Other chemical goods: $2.2 billion (Up by 12.5%)
- Meat: $1.8 billion (Up by 9.2%)
- Soaps, washing preparations, lubricants, waxes: $1.7 billion (Up by 15.4%)
Belgium has highly positive net exports in the international trade of pharmaceutical products in 2021. In turn, these cashflows indicate Belgium’s strong competitive advantages under the pharmaceuticals category.
Products Causing Worst Trade Deficits for Belgium
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$19.3 billion (Up by 125.8% since 2020)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$9.6 billion (Up by 29.3%)
- Organic chemicals: -$5.8 billion (Reversing a $1.6 billion surplus)
- Machinery including computers: -$3.3 billion (Up by 59.1%)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$2.9 billion (Up by 106.1%)
- Cereals: -$2.1 billion (Up by 32.9%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting , signs, prefab buildings: -$1.8 billion (Up by 43.3%)
- Oil seeds: -$1.6 billion (Up by 53.8%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: -$1.2 billion (Up by 84.1%)
- Fruits, nuts: -$962 million (Down by -17.3%)
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 83% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2021 ($659.7 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 83% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2021 compares to 72.9% for 2020 Those percentages suggest a relatively increasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Belgium’s total economic performance, albeit based on a short timeframe. 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 averaged 6.283% in 2021, up from an average 5.733% for 2020 according to statistics from the International Monetary Fund.
Belgium’s capital city is Brussels.
See also Belgium’s Top 10 Imports, Belgium’s Top Trading Partners, Germany’s Top Trading Partners and France’s Top Trading Partners
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on June 20, 2022
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on June 20, 2022
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (Domestic Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on June 20, 2022
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on June 20, 2022
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on June 20, 2022
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on June 20, 2022
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on June 20, 2022
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Belgium. Accessed on June 20, 2022
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on June 20, 2022
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on June 20, 2022