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Flanders’ exports reach record high in 2018

In 2018, Flanders-based companies realized exports amounting to no less than EUR 328 billion. Claire Tillekaerts, CEO of Flanders Investment & Trade: “In 2018, Flanders’ exports increased by 3.45% compared EUR € 317 billion in 2017.

This is the 9th export increase in a row and one of the highest growth rates since 2010, the year in which our exports emerged from the economic crisis.” Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) based the analysis on the 2018 import and export figures of the National Bank of Belgium (NBB).

The increase in Flanders’ exports in 2018 scored slightly lower than the average European growth level of 4.63%.

Exports to EU member states

In 2018, 71.1% of Flanders’ exports went to countries within the EU-28. Intra-community exports increased by 4.85% compared to 2017. More than half (52.4%) of Flanders’ exports went to Germany, the Netherlands, France, the UK and Luxembourg together.

Exports to Germany – the region’s #1 export destination – rose by 10% (compared to an increase of 4.5% in 2017). This EUR 5.4 billion increase in exports also resulted in Germany achieving the strongest increase in export value in Flanders’ top 50 for the year 2018. With a share of 17.96% in the region’s export total, Germany remained by far Flanders’ most important export market.

With an export increase of 5.81%, the Netherlands remained Flanders’ 2nd most important export destination in 2018.

Exports to the UK decreased by 2.80%. Since the Brexit referendum in June 2016, the fall in the exchange rate of the pound against the euro remains for the time being the only tangible consequence of the Brexit process. The figures do indicate that a few Brexit-sensitive sectors deteriorated slightly in 2018. Textile exports from Flanders to the UK fell by 3.66%. Carpet exports even fell by 8%, and those of interior textiles by 10%.

In addition, there was especially a sharp fall (-37.1%) in the export of diesel cars from Flanders to the UK, due to the increase in the tax on diesel vehicles levied by the British government in April 2018.

Exports to non-EU member states within Europe

Flanders’ exports to non-EU member states decreased by 7.9% in 2018 compared to the previous year (from EUR 17.5 billion to 16.1 billion). Traditionally, around 90% of the region’s exports to non-EU Member States are to 3 countries: Romania, Turkey and Russia.

With a decrease of 21.3% in 2018, exports from Flanders to Switzerland normalized, after an exceptional increase due to the delivery of pharmaceuticals in 2017. The export of Flemish companies to Turkey decreased by 7.6% in 2018, to Russia by 10.5% (mainly due to less exports of machines and medicines).

Exports outside Europe

Exports to Asian countries decreased by 5.7% in 2018. In addition to China (-11.7%; less organic chemicals and automotive), there was also a loss of exports to Japan (-2.4%; fewer medical instruments and diesel vehicles), India (-1%), Singapore (-7.3%) and Thailand (-7.6%).

Positive were the higher export results to South Korea (+10.9%), Taiwan (+15.1%) and Malaysia (+11.8%).

Exports to Iran declined by 29.1%, a strong downward trend. The reduction in exports is largely due to the US withdrawal in May 2018 from the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) and the resulting sanctions.

On the other hand, exports from Flanders-based companies to Africa rose by 9.7% for the second year in a row. The most significant increases were to Sub-Saharan Africa (+13.1%), including Nigeria (+11.2%) and Togo (+26.9%).

Flanders’ exports to the US experienced a 5.5% increase in 2018, after a decrease of 13.9% in 2017. In North America, exports rose almost twice as much (by 7%) as the continental average. Canada also remained an important trading partner for Flanders in 2017. With a total value of EUR 2.57 billion, Flanders’ exports to the country increased by no less than 17.3% compared to 2017.

Exports to Oceania also increased, mainly with higher exports to Australia (3.6%) and New Zealand (12.1%).

Exports per sector

Again in 2018, the chemical and pharmaceutical industry was at the head of Flanders’ export pack: with EUR 75.3 billion in international sales, these sectors together account for 22.9% of total exports. Chemicals and pharmaceuticals are closely followed by the transport equipment sector, accounting for a 12.6% share of Flanders’ total annual exports.

The industry in the list with the strongest increase is that of mineral products, with growth in annual exports of EUR 5.2 billion or an annual increase of 18.1%.

Imports: highest score ever

Flanders’ imports of foreign goods achieved a record increase of 5.56% this year compared to 2017. Thus, imports rose to almost EUR 317.3 billion. The region’s imports from the Netherlands scored highest with an increase of 9.64%.

Most important trading partners of Flanders

If we look at total trade (import + export), the Netherlands was Flanders’ most important trading partner in 2018 – with Germany at number two.

The starring role of the Netherlands has a lot to do with the trade in mineral fuels and refining products, which has as direct result that Flanders runs the largest trade deficit with the Netherlands.

Germany, on the other hand, is number one by far with respect to Flanders’ trade surpluses.

1 April 2019