Belgium’s strongly globalized economy and its transportation infrastructure are integrated with the rest of Europe. Its location
at the heart of a highly industrialized region helped make it the world’s 15th largest trading nation in 2007.The economy is characterized by a highly productive work force, high GNP and high exports per capita.Belgium’s main imports are raw materials, machinery and equipment, chemicals, raw diamonds, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, transportation equipment, oil products. Its main exports are machinery and equipment, chemicals, finished diamonds, metals and metal products, foodstuffs.
The Belgian economy is heavily service-oriented and shows a dual nature: a dynamic Flemish economy and a Walloon economy that lags behind.One of the founding members of the European Union, Belgium strongly supports an open economy and the extension of the powers of EU institutions to integrate member economies. Since 1922, through the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Belgium and Luxembourg have been a single trade market with customs and currency union.
Belgium was the first continental European country to undergo the Industrial Revolution, in the early 19th century.Liège and Charleroi rapidly developed mining and steelmaking, which flourished until the mid-20th century in the Sambre–Meuse valley, the sillon industriel and made Belgium one of the top three most industrialized nations in the world from 1830 to 1910.However, by the 1840s the textile industry of Flanders was in severe crisis, and the region experienced famine from 1846–50.
After World War II, Ghent and Antwerp experienced a rapid expansion of the chemical and petroleum industries. The 1973 and 1979 oil crises sent the economy into a recession; it was particularly prolonged in Wallonia, where the steel industry had become less competitive and experienced serious decline.In the 1980s and 90s, the economic centre of the country continued to shift northwards and is now concentrated in the populous Flemish Diamond area.
By the end of the 1980s, Belgian macroeconomic policies had resulted in a cumulative government debt of about 120% of GDP. As of 2006, the budget was balanced and public debt was equal to 90.30% of GDP. In 2005 and 2006, real GDP growth rates of 1.5% and 3.0%, respectively, were slightly above the average for the Euro area. Unemployment rates of 8.4% in 2005 and 8.2% in 2006 were close to the area average.
From 1832 until 2002, Belgium’s currency was the Belgian franc. Belgium switched to the euro in 2002, with the first sets of euro coins being minted in 1999. The standard Belgian euro coins designated for circulation show the portrait of King Albert II.