Economy of Belgium
The modern, private enterprise economy of Belgium has capitalised on its central geographic location, highly developed transport network, and diversified industrial and commercial base. The first country to undergo an industrial revolution on the continent of Europe in the early 19th century, Belgium developed an excellent transportation infrastructure of ports, canals, railways, and highways to integrate its industry with that of its neighbours. Industry is concentrated mainly in the populous Flanders in the north, around Brussels and in the two biggest Walloon cities, Liège and Charleroi, along the sillon industriel. Belgium imports raw materials and semi-finished goods that are further processed and re-exported. Except for its coal, which is no longer economical to exploit, Belgium has few natural resources other than fertile soils. Nonetheless, most traditional industrial sectors are represented in the economy, including steel, textiles, refining, chemicals, food processing, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, electronics, and machinery fabrication. Despite the heavy industrial component, services account for 74.9% of GDP, while agriculture accounts for only 1% of GDP.
With exports equivalent to over two-thirds of GNP, Belgium depends heavily on world trade. Belgium's trade advantages are derived from its central geographic location and a highly skilled, multilingual, and productive work force. One of the founding members of the European Community, Belgium strongly supports deepening the powers of the present-day European Union to integrate European economies further. About three-quarters of its trade is with other EU countries. Together with the Netherlands and Luxembourg, Belgium is also one of Benelux member states.
Belgium's public debt is about 105% of GDP. The government succeeded in balancing its budget during the 2000-2008 period, and income distribution is relatively equal. Belgium began circulating the euro currency in January 2002. Economic growth and foreign direct investment dropped in 2008. In 2009 Belgium suffered negative growth and increased unemployment, stemming from the worldwide banking crisis. Trade
About 80% of Belgium's trade is with fellow EU member states. Given this high percentage, it seeks to diversify and expand trade opportunities with non-EU countries. The Belgian authorities are, as a rule, anti-protectionist and try to maintain a hospitable and open trade and investment climate. The European Commission negotiates on trade issues for all member states, which, in turn lessens bilateral trade disputes with Belgium.
The Belgian Government encourages new foreign investment as a means to promote employment. With regional devolution, Flanders, Brussels, and Wallonia are now courting potential foreign investors and offer a host of incentives and benefits. Foreign companies in Belgium account for approximately 11% of the total work force, with the U.S. share at about 5%. Attracted by the EU 1992 single-market program, many foreign firms and lawyers have settled in Brussels since 1989.
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