In the course of 2006, quarterly economic growth in Belgium slowed down in line with the international business cycle from 0.9% in the first quarter to 0.6% in the last quarter. This year, qoq GDP growth should stabilise around 0.5%. On a yearly basis, economic growth should slow down from 3% in 2006 to 2.2% in 2007.
In 2006, economic growth was only supported by domestic demand while net exports contributed negatively to it. In 2007, however, both domestic demand and net exports should support GDP growth. Despite the deceleration in quarterly Belgian export growth due to the slowdown of the euro area and the US economy, annual average export growth should rise to 6.5% in 2007 as it benefits from a considerable carry-over from 2006. After several years of decrease, the current account surplus should rise by 0.4% of GDP in 2007, mainly as a result of the decline in oil prices leading to an improvement in the terms of trade. Domestic demand growth should weaken this year, which is essentially due to the evolution of private consumption and public investment. Private consumption growth should be less buoyant than in 2006 as the personal income tax reform then gave its final boost to real disposable income. Public investment rose markedly last year in view of the local elections in October 2006, but should fall by the same extent in 2007.
After a net gain of about 44,000 persons in 2006, employment is expected to record an average annual rise of 45,600 persons this year. As the number of jobs grows faster than the labour force, the broad administrative unemployment rate is expected to decline from 13.9% in 2006 to 13.5% in 2007. The harmonised Eurostat unemployment rate (based on labour force surveys) should fall from 8.3% in 2006 to 7.9% next year.
This year, the increase in the national index of consumer prices (NICP) should amount to 1.8%, just as in 2006. It should be noted that the inflation picture in 2006 was blurred by the introduction of a new NICP-basket. The rise of the private consumption deflator, which is not affected by this factor, should decline from 2.3% in 2006 to 1.8% in 2007, mainly due to the decrease in oil prices. [...]