Economic activity in Belgium increased strongly during the second half of last year thanks to the net improvement in export growth as well as sustained internal demand. On average, GDP growth reached 2.5% in 1999, confirming the scenario of a short-lived slowdown between mid-98 and mid-99.
The upward trend in nearly all demand components will result in a positive carry-over effect for the year 2000. Moreover, leading indicators are so far pointing towards a further improvement in economic growth in the first half of the current year, with growth stabilising at a high level in the third quarter. This year, Belgian GDP growth should reach 3.2%. Internal demand will be boosted by sustained growth in private consumption, thanks among other things to a high job creation rate (+1.4%), and also by a positive contribution from stockbuilding towards economic growth (+0.3%). The contribution of external trade (+0.4%) will be favoured by the dynamism of world trade and the improvement in price competitiveness. The public sector borrowing requirement should diminish and nearly reach equilibrium (-0.1% of GDP), thanks to the fall in interest payments and the increase in the primary surplus.
The medium-term outlook for Belgium is pointing towards a GDP growth rate of 2.6% per year during the 2001-2005 period, mostly supported by exports and business investment. The economic fundamentals of the euro area should be the main driving force behind those prospects: fiscal consolidation should not require new measures and the slightly accelerated pace of inflation (around 2% in the medium term) in Europe should not threaten price stability and the low level of real interest rates. Despite the further significant decrease of the unemployment rate in the euro area, acceleration in wage inflation should be limited.
Annual employment growth in Belgium should be around 0.8% between 2001 and 2005. The labour force will still increase in spite of unfavourable demographic developments (the baby-boom generation is entering the 55-60 age range), thanks to higher participation rates among females and over-50s. [...]