Kingdom of Belgium
Royaume de Belgique
Belgium is a nation located in Western Europe. It is between the Netherlands to the north, Germany and Luxembourg to the east, France to the south, and the North Sea to the west. Belgium is about the size of Maryland, has an area of 30,510 square kilometers (11,780 square miles) and includes 280 square kilometers (108 square miles) of inland waterways. It has 66 kilometers (41 miles) of coastline and its borders total 1,385 kilometers (861 miles). Belgium shares 620 kilometers (385 miles) with France, 167 kilometers (103 miles) with Germany, 148 kilometers (92 miles) with Luxembourg, and 450 kilometers (280 miles) with the Netherlands. The nation also claims an exclusive fishing zone that extends 68 kilometers (42 miles) into the North Sea. Belgium is the traditional crossroads of Europe and its capital, Brussels, also serves as the capital of the European Union (EU). Brussels also serves as the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Western European Union (WEU). Brussels is located in the middle of the country and has a population of 954,460. It is one of the largest cities in Belgium. In contrast, Antwerp, Belgium's second largest city has a population of 447,632 and is located in the northern area of the nation. Lastly, Ghent, Belgium's third largest city has a population of 224,074 and is in the northwest.
In July 2000, it was estimated that Belgium had a population of 10,241,506. The population growth rate is estimated at a low 0.18 percent. The fertility rate is estimated at 1.61 children born per woman and the birth rate consists of 10.91 births per 1,000 people. The death rate is 10.13 deaths per 1,000.
Like many advanced industrialized countries, Belgium's population is aging and 16 percent of the inhabitants are over the age of 65, while only 18 percent are between the ages of 0 and 14. The life expectancy for men is 74.47 years and 81.3 years for women. A majority of Belgians now live in urban areas and, as people from both the rural areas and immigrants settle in the cities, this trend is growing rapidly. The population density of Belgium is second only to the Netherlands in Europe.
The nation has 3 major ethnic communities: the Flemish, the Walloons, and the German-speakers. The Flemish make up about 58 percent of the population and speak a form of Dutch known as Flemish. The Flemish are concentrated in the northern regions of the nation. The Walloons speak French and mainly live in the southern areas of Belgium. About 31 percent of Belgians are Walloons. German-speakers are the third major group and they mainly reside in the east around the city of Liege. German-speakers comprise about 1 percent of the population. There are also numerous other ethnic minority groups in the country. Brussels alone has 19 different
Conflicts between the Flemish and the Walloons have traditionally divided Belgian society. Throughout most of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the French-speaking population dominated the region. However, the Flemish eventually gained reform, obtained regional autonomy, and then established Flanders as a unilingual region. The 1970 constitution created 3 autonomous political regions: Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels. In 1984, the German community of Liege was also granted its own legislative assembly and began controlling its own educational and cultural matters. Disputes between the 2 groups continue and have led to numerous political compromises, including a new constitution in 1993, which changed Belgium from a unitary state (a country in which the central government has the most political power) to a federal system (a country in which the central government and regional governments collaboratively share power to a certain degree).
From the 1800s through the 1960s, steel making was the heart of the nation's industry. By the end of the 1960s, Belgian steel manufacturers became less competitive when foreign companies began producing steel for less by using cheap labor and less expensive resources. The twin oil crises of the 1970s further undermined the industry by reducing the worldwide demand for steel. In order to preserve jobs, the government tried to protect steel manufacturers by subsidizing the industry.
The high cost of labor continued to impair the competitiveness of these and other industries. Industry also suffers from excess capacity and continued high fuel prices. These factors have led car manufacturers such as Ford and Renault to cut production in Belgium and shift factories elsewhere. The government has also made considerable attempts to restructure its remaining industrial base. The main thrusts of these efforts have been tax incentives for both domestic and foreign companies in exchange for industry investments. It has also offered incentives for investments in new technologies and the creation of new manufacturing methods.
The steel and plastics industries continue to decline. Since 1990, steel, iron, and coke production has declined by 20 percent. Nonetheless, about 1,000 companies remain in this industry that employs 52,000 people. Belgium remains the eighteenth largest steel producer in the world. In 1999, the sector produced 11 million tons of crude steel and had revenues of 260 billion Belgian francs of which 45 percent came from exports. This was a 4 percent decline from the previous year. The primary plastic products include parts for automobile construction and for engineering projects.
Europe's largest electrolyte copper, zinc, and lead refineries are located in Belgium. The nonferrous metals industry includes: base metals such as aluminum, copper, zinc, lead, and tin; precious metals such as gold, silver, and platinum; and rare or special metals such as germanium, cobalt, and indium. The metals industry employs some 8,600 people. Its exports were worth 127 billion Belgian francs in 1999. New industrial investments totaled 2.6 billion Belgian francs in 1999 and attempted to reduce production costs. The kingdom is also a major producer of limestone, dolomite, various synthetic materials, and construction materials such as marble and concrete. There is also a significant mineral sector that is focused on the refining of imported minerals such as copper, zinc, and diamonds.
Antwerp is the center of the world's diamond trade. The diamond industry employs some 30,000 people and represents 6.4 percent of the nation's exports. In total, 9 out of 10 rough diamonds and 1 out of 2 cut diamonds pass through Antwerp. The diamond sector represents one area of industrial growth. The sector experienced an average growth rate of 6 percent in the 1990s. There are 400 companies engaged in trading rough-cut diamonds, and 700 companies engaged in trading cut diamonds. In 1998, the industry's exports were worth 369 billion Belgian francs.
Glassmaking remains a profitable and expanding industry. It employs some 12,000 people and in 1998, its output was 1.5 million tons of glass. This generated revenues of 100 billion Belgian francs. The industry's exports go mainly to other European countries (some 85 percent of glass exports). In Belgium, glass production was 3 times that of consumption and Belgian workers have among the highest levels of productivity. In 1980, Belgian glass workers produced 55 kg (lbs) of glass per hour; by 1999 that output had increased to 109 kg (lbs) per hour.
Belgium's chemical industry is highly diverse and efficient. From 1985 to 1999, the sector has grown by an average of 3.5 percent per year. It is the second largest industrial sector in the nation. The industry is geared for foreign trade and some 80 percent of its products are exported (75 percent of these exports went to EU nations). In 1999, chemicals accounted for 23.5 percent of the kingdom's total exports and were worth 1.574 trillion Belgian francs. In an effort to remain competitive, the chemical industry invested approximately 50 percent of its profits in research and the development of new products and manufacturing techniques. In 1999, there were 97,167 people employed by chemical companies, which represents an 8.4 percent increase since 1985. Chemicals and pharmaceutical products are now Belgium's top exports.
Transport equipment is one of the strongest remaining industrial sectors in Belgium. This sector includes the automotive industry, shipbuilding, railway and tram construction, bicycles, and the aeronautical and aerospace industry. Although Belgium does not have its own national automotive manufacturers, it has a large number of international companies. Ford, General Motors, Opel, Renault, Volkswagen, and Volvo have plants in Belgium. In 1999, the nation produced 1.3 million cars. It also produces specialty vehicles including vans, trucks, buses, and minibuses. Of the vehicles manufactured in Belgium, 95 percent are exported. The main markets are France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The automotive industry also produces a variety of specialty parts for cars. The industry specializes in "just in time" (JIT) manufacturing which involves producing products to be used immediately upon receipt. This process eliminates the need to stockpile items in warehouses.
Belgium no longer builds large sea-going vessels, but its shipyards still build smaller coastal and river craft. In addition, there are a number of firms that are capable of repairing and refitting larger ships. Companies also produce a variety of specialty products for marine use. Belgium invests considerable sums in aerospace. The government works with other European nations such as France and Germany on projects such as Airbus jet aircraft and the Ariane rocket.
The textile sector employs over 42,500 people in 1,320 textile factories. Belgium is now the largest carpet exporter in the world. Textile revenues accounted for 250 billion Belgian francs. Unlike many of the other traditional industries, Belgium's textile manufacturers have been able to adjust to changes in the global market. Belgium is also noted for its quality leather products. There have been widespread consolidations and advancements in manufacturing techniques. As a result, the textile sector remains one of Belgium's largest industrial employers.
Belgium produces a wide range of electronics equipment that includes both consumer and business products. This sector of the economy employs 49,000 people in 300 companies. These businesses produced products worth more than 300 billion Belgian francs. Two-thirds of the kingdom's electronic products are exported. The majority, 75 percent, goes to other members of the EU, while the remaining exports are divided among the United States, Eastern Europe, and Asia. Medical and hospital electronics are a major part of this sector. The electronics sector is the largest investor in the economy's infrastructure and research and development. The sector annually invests some 30 billion Belgian francs of which 60 percent is in research and development.
Furniture manufacturing has a long and distinguished tradition in Belgium. Adaptability and quality reputation are its keys to continued success. Increased mechanization and automation have helped contain costs and kept the industry competitive. It has strong exports to Germany and the United Kingdom and has recently enjoyed dramatic growth in the Netherlands. The sector has also aggressively targeted the markets in Eastern Europe. Belgium furniture exports have increased by 57 percent and have grown by a phenomenal 79 percent to Russia itself. In 1998, the industry had revenues of 1.89 billion euros that included 1.13 billion euros in exports.
The construction industry in Belgium encompasses 2 different broad areas. The majority of activity is centered on the construction of new buildings and homes. There is also a considerable market in the restoration of older dwellings. Brick is the preferred building material and most homes are custom built. On average, only 10 percent of homes built are prefabricated. In 1998, residential construction accounted for 46 percent of new contracts, business construction accounted for 41 percent, and 13 percent of new contracts were in civil engineering. In 1997, Belgium's construction companies had revenues of 1 trillion Belgian francs. Belgian companies also carried out a number of projects abroad, mainly in developing nations. In 1998, total revenues from these projects were 88 billion Belgian francs. Government plans to eliminate slums and provide housing for low-income Belgians have significantly helped the construction industry grow.
The financial sector has 3 main subdivisions: commercial banks, public credit institutions, and private savings banks. However, the divisions between these 3 types of institutions became less noticeable in the 1990s. There have been a substantial number of mergers across these fields. For instance, in 1999 the international banking corporation Dexia merged its Belgian and French subsidiaries to create a banking group worth $11 billion. Belgium's Banking Commission supervises private banks, finance companies, and the oversight of mutual funds. Investments in the country's financial sector ballooned from $55 billion in 1996 to $300 billion in 1999.
The 3 main trading banks in Belgium are the Fortis Bank, Brussels Bank Lambert, and KBC. Fortis has a workforce of some 40,000 and 3,000 branches. It services some 7 million customers in Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, and is one of the leading banks in northwestern Europe. Brussels Bank Lambert has 900 traditional branches and 500 automated teller machines. It is the twelfth largest bank in Europe. KBC is the nation's third largest bank and is also one of the largest insurance companies. It has 1,500 bank employees, 500 insurance brokers, and 8,000 other brokers. This multinational bank has branches in 30 different nations. The fourth and fifth largest banks in Belgium are foreign-owned. Number-four is Dexier, a joint Belgian-French multinational, and number-five is Morgan Guaranty Trust of New York (a subsidiary of J. P. Morgan & Company). Other major international banks in Belgium are Citibank, Bank of America, and Chase Manhattan Bank.
In 2000, the EU enacted new rules that allow insurance brokers to operate in any other EU state as long as they are registered in their home nation. For instance, Belgian insurance companies will be able to set up offices in Germany or France without having to be licensed in that nation. This offers a variety of advantages to Belgian companies. For instance, 60 to 70 percent of the insurance bought by Belgian consumers was non-life (including car or home insurance). In contrast, in other EU states, non-life insurance typically accounts for some 20 percent of the market. Hence, Belgian insurance companies see these new markets as sources of great opportunities.
The main centers of the Belgian tourist industry are the country's coastal region and the Ardennes.
The coastline has 65 resorts and numerous beaches. Most are designed for family-oriented vacations and draw tourists from France, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. Situated in the southeast of Belgium, the Ardennes forest is one of the few unspoiled natural areas in Western Europe. The area attracts campers and daytrippers. It is known for hiking, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, and mountaineering in the spring and summer months. In the winter, tourists engage in both downhill and cross-country skiing.
The total value of tourism in Belgium is $11.425 billion. Of this total, Belgians traveling within the country spent $4.9 billion. The United States is the number-one destination for Belgians traveling abroad. In 1999, some 257,000 Belgians visited the United States and spent $652 million.
Retailers in Belgium have rebounded from a period of stagnation in the early 1990s. Consumer spending has been increasing at a rate of 2.5 percent over the past few years and is expected to grow in the near future. Unlike many other markets in the EU or North America, independent companies still make up a large proportion of the retail market. For instance, although 78.5 percent of fashion merchandisers are independent, chain outlets control 16.7 percent of the market. The remaining 4.8 percent is in the hands of large department stores and supermarkets.
In 1999, there were 52,807 restaurants in Belgium. The largest chain is the Quick hamburger restaurant group that has 105 shops. The number-two chain is the U.S.-owned McDonald's. Other American chains such as Pizza Hut and Chi Chi's also hold significant market shares. Sales at foreign-owned restaurants were 10.45 billion Belgian francs while sales at locally owned stores were 7.53 billion Belgian francs.
Belgium has no territories or colonies.
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Belgian franc (BEF). One franc is equal to 100 centimes. However, the centimes denominations are no longer used. The Belgian franc is exchangeable on an equal basis with the Luxembourg franc. In 1999, Belgium began using the euro, the common currency of the European Union. The franc is set at a fixed exchange rate of 40.3399 per euro. The euro will replace all local currencies within the EU in 2002.
Machinery and equipment, chemicals, diamonds, metals and metal products.
Machinery and equipment, chemicals, metals and metal products.
US$259.2 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).
Exports: US$181.4 billion (f.o.b., 2000). Imports: US$166 billion (c.i.f., 2000).