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Belgium Economy


Belgium's economy is reliant on services, transportation, trade and industry. Coal mining, which has declined in recent years, and the production of steel, chemicals and cement are concentrated in the Sambre and Meuse valleys, in the Borinage around Mons, Charleroi, Namur and Liège, and in the Campine coal basin. Liège is a major steel centre. A well-established metal-products industry manufactures bridges, heavy machinery, industrial and surgical equipment, motor vehicles, rolling stock, machine tools and munitions. Chemical products include fertilisers, dyes, pharmaceuticals,and plastics; the petrochemical industry is concentrated near the oil refineries of Antwerp.

Textile production, which began in the Middle Ages, includes cotton, linen, wool and synthetic fibers; carpets and blankets are important manufactures. Ghent, Kortrijk, Tournai and Verviers are all textile centres; Mechelen, Bruges and Brussels are celebrated for their lace. Other industries include diamond cutting (Antwerp is an important diamond centre), cement and glass production, and the processing of leather and wood. Over 75% of Belgium's electricity is produced by nuclear power.

Belgian industry is heavily dependent upon imports for its raw materials. Most iron comes from the Lorraine basin in France, while nonferrous metal products made from imported raw materials include zinc, copper, lead and tin.

Exports include iron and steel, transportation equipment, tractors, diamonds, and petroleum products. Industrial centres are linked with each other and with the main ports of Antwerp and Ghent by the Meuse and Scheldt rivers and their tributaries, by a network of canals (notably the Albert Canal), and by a dense railroad system.

Belgium has much fertile and well-watered soil, although agriculture engages only a small percentage of the workforce. The chief crops are wheat, oats, rye, barley, sugar beets, potatoes and flax. Cattle and pig raising as well as dairying (especially in Flanders) are also important. Processed foods include beet sugar, cheese, and other dairy items; beer and other beverages are manufactured.


Economy - overview:
This modern, private-enterprise economy has capitalised on its central geographic location, highly developed transport network, and diversified industrial and commercial base. Industry is concentrated mainly in the populous Flemish area in the north. With few natural resources, Belgium must import substantial quantities of raw materials and export a large volume of manufactures, making its economy unusually dependent on the state of world markets. Roughly three-quarters of its trade is with other EU countries. Public debt is more than 90% of GDP. On the positive side, the government has succeeded in balancing its budget, and income distribution is relatively equal. Belgium began circulating the euro currency in January 2002. Economic growth in 2001-03 dropped sharply because of the global economic slowdown, with moderate recovery in 2004-06.

GDP (purchasing power parity):
$342.5 billion (2006 est.)

GDP (official exchange rate):
$369.6 billion (2006 est.)

GDP - real growth rate:
3% (2006 est.)

GDP - per capita (PPP):
$33,000 (2006 est.)

GDP - composition by sector:
agriculture: 1%
industry: 24%
services: 74.9% (2005 est.)

Labour force : 4.89 million (2006 est.)

Labour force - by occupation :
agriculture: 1.3%
industry: 24.5%
services: 74.2% (2003 est.)

Unemployment rate:
8.1% (2006 est.)

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