In 2004, economic growth in Belgium amounted to 2.7% (GDP at constant prices), which is higher than the euro area average due to the strength of Belgian domestic demand. The economic recovery, triggered by an improvement in the international business climate from mid-2003 onwards, resulted in quarter-on-quarter growth rates between 0.7% and 0.8%, but weakened to 0.4% in the last quarter of 2004.
Economic growth should gain momentum during the course of this year, which is mainly due to the quarterly profile of exports. In fact, export growth should temporarily weaken during the first half of this year due to lower foreign demand growth and the appreciation of the euro during the last two quarters of 2004, which hampers competitiveness with respect to the other currency areas. Private con-sumption (+1.8%) should increase at a faster pace than purchasing power (+1.4%) for the third con-secutive year. Stimulated by the ongoing recovery of business profitability, low interest rates and gradually improving demand prospects, real business investment growth should strengthen to 3.3% this year. All in all, GDP growth at constant prices should reach 2.2% in 2005. Inflation should re-main rather stable at 2.0%.
Employment should increase by 34,400 units this year, as compared to 28,600 in 2004. As the labour force should increase at about the same pace in 2005, the unemployment rate should stabilise this year. The employment rate should rise slightly from 61.8% in 2004 to 62.1% in 2005.