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STU 03-99 : Special Topic - Determinants of Belgium’s export performance [Short Term Update 03-99]

In contrast with strong global economic growth in 1998, Belgian exports declined substantially during the third and fourth quarter, as the crisis in South-East Asia and in some other emerging economies progressively affected intra-European trade. Even given a scenario of fairly strong Belgian export recovery during the second half of the current year, the low level reached in the first quarter of 1999 implies a low annual growth rate for exports in 1999.

Employment creation should remain significant in 1999 (about 1.1%); domestic demand (2.1%) should keep driving economic growth, although at a much slower pace than in 1998. The implications of the dioxin crisis remain largely uncertain. Assuming that most detrimental effects would progressively disappear after three months, it should reduce exports in 1999 by 0.3% and GDP by 0.2%. In this scenario, GDP growth in 1999 should be 1.7%; net exports contribution to GDP growth would be negative by 0.2%.

Economic growth in 2000 should attain 2.5% and be supported by better export performance (5.1%): the depreciation of the Euro in 1999 should increase the competitiveness of the Euro-zone, boosting our main export markets. Belgian exports should also take advantage from the decrease in employer's contributions to social security, and from a moderate recovery in our agricultural and agro-industrial exports.

Private consumption growth (1.8%) should remain moderate as no further impulse is expected from households' savings. Business gross capital formation should remain weak. Profits and related revenues should suffer from, among others, the deterioration in the terms of trade due to higher energy prices and the depreciation in the BEF effective exchange rate during the first half of 1999, as well as from the financial consequences of the dioxin crisis.

The pace of economic growth, the different measures limiting wage increases, and the active labour market policy measures should allow employment to keep growing in 2000 (1.0%). Inflation should remain subdued at 1.3%.

The crisis that started two years ago in the Asian NICs, the financial and economic turmoil in Russia and the contagion to other emerging countries have had an important impact on the world economy. Trade flows in Belgium have also been affected. A general overview of the structural trade patterns of Belgium and its main trading partners in the period immediately preceding the crisis allows us to provide some insights into the specific issue of trade channel transmission.

Belgium’s geographic trade pattern reflects its high degree of economic integration with the other industrial countries, especially with EU members. Imports from and exports to the EU countries account for about 75% of Belgium’s total external trade.

Among other regions of the world, the group of the Asian NICs and the group of the European countries in transition represent relatively small markets for the Belgian economy, despite the rapid trade growth experienced by these countries in the recent period.

In fact, the trade links of Belgium with these two groups of countries are less important than the trade links of the EU countries with the latter. If we compare Belgium with its main trading partners, i.e. Germany, France, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Italy, these countries all show closer trade links with both groups. [More in the full text document (PDF 3.0 file)]

STU 3-99 was finalised on July 9th 1999.


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