Belgium is well positioned to continue its economic growth well into the 21st century. Its export-driven economy has created a trade surplus that will continue for the foreseeable future. In addition, Belgium's geographic position and its infrastructure indicate that the country will continuously serve as a point of entry for goods and services going into Europe. The introduction of the single European currency in 1999 will continue to make it easier for Belgian firms to trade within the EU.
While the 370 million people of the EU create one of the biggest commercial markets in the world, Belgium's dependence on intra-EU trade makes it vulnerable to economic slowdowns in the region. However, Belgium's trade with North America, namely the United States, continues to grow and may serve as a means to partially offset economic downturns in the EU.
Domestically, Belgium faces a variety of problems. Continuing tension between the Dutch-and French-speaking populations has led to the division of the nation into semi-autonomous regions that compete with one another for economic growth and investment. In addition, the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, although it is lower than the EU average. Because of the high unemployment rate, the government is forced to maintain a high level of social welfare programs.