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Flemish exports reach new historic high

In 2015, Flemish exports were worth over 300 billion euro, the highest value ever, according to a first analysis by Flanders Investment & Trade of the import and export figures supplied by the Institute of National Accounts within the National Bank of Belgium.

Flemish imports meanwhile remained stable at 288.8 billion euro. The Flemish share within overall Belgian exports amounted to over 83%. As in other years, the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors are by far outranking other sectors in the Flemish export portfolio. Oil price fluctuations again dented exports of mineral fuels, which rank second in the exports list. 

  • 2015 saw no substantial fluctuations in the value of either exports  (+2.16%) or imports (-0,02%) as compared with 2014, mainly owing to the price fluctuations of mineral fuels.  Flanders exported goods worth 300.6 billion euro.
  •  In 2015, Flemish exports did slightly better than its Belgian counterpart, which increased by 1.49%. Flanders has thus attained a 83.1% share in overall Belgian exports. Wallonia, which saw its exports decrease by 2.0%, takes a 14.6% share in Belgian exports., while the Brussels Capital Region exports (increase by 0.8%) represent 2.3%
  • This new record set by Flemish exports in 2015 is of course good news, despite the slower growth rhythm which has been noted since 2010, the year in which our exports recovered for the first time since the crisis years 2008 and 2009 (in particular).
  • Flanders remains the sixth biggest exporter within the EU after Germany, the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom and Italy and before Spain, which comes seventh with an export value nearly 50 billion euro short of that of Flanders..
  • Overall Flemish exports in Europe (+3,2%) increased slightly more than average, which can mainly be ascribed to the exports to EU customers figuring in the top ten of Flemish customers, such as Germany (featuring a normal increase of 2.6%) and France (marking a stronger growth of 7.0%). Nowhere did our exports increase as much as in the United Kingdom (+ 8.0%) and Italy (+19.2%). Exports to Poland (+8.0%) and Sweden (+13,2%) were also positive while some hesitant growth in exports to Spain (+2.8%) could again be noticed. Exports to the Netherlands are the only exception to this positive mood with negative export figures (-4.0%). The market for petroleum products was particularly hit, with a 2.4 billion euro decrease in turnover (-24,0%).
  •  In 2015 America topped the export growth ranking by continent (+7.5%) , which is the sole merit of North and Central America with export growths of 11.0% and 15.8% respectively.  The United States was our privileged market with an export growth of no less than 11.8% or up 2 billion euro from 2014, with growth figures evenly spread over the exports portfolio.
  • Exports to Central America (+15.8%) also exceeded the average Flemish export growth, mainly owing to the positive results in Mexico (+14.0%). Flemish exports to Cuba (+26.9%) were also on the rise.
  • Sales in South America (-9,5%) however, faltered with sales in Brazil for example decreasing by just over 20%. With Brazil representing half of Flemish exports to South America, this decrease can’t be considered negligible. However, this bleak picture shouldn’t be generalised since exports to Argentina (+30.9%), Chili (+21.0%) and Colombia (+13.1%). soared. 
  • Flemish export statistics are somewhat impacted by dwindling export figures in Asia (-2.5%) although exports to the Middle East (+2,0%) remained positive..
  • Flemish exports to Africa (-4.7%) declined, although the loss was less important in North Africa (-3,5%). Sub Saharan exports decreased by 5.2%. Only in South Africa, the smallest partner in the BRICS group, did our export market grow in 2015.
  • Overall exports to the BRICS cluster sadly took a steep fall of no less than 12.4%, owing to export losses in India (-9.5%), China (-9.2%), Russia (-25.2%) and Brazil (-20.%).  The 2.3 billion euro decline in exports to the BRICS countries in 2015 reduced the importance of the cluster in overall Flemish exports to 6.71%, down from 7.83% in 2014.
  • The chemical and pharmaceutical sectors, totalling 24.1% of overall Flemish exports, are by far topping the Flemish exports portfolio by sector. The two sectors share a substantial 9.3% export growth between them. The machines and equipment sector was also characterised by important growth (+2.67 billion euro or +8.96%, representing 10.78% of overall exports), as were transport equipment (+6.83%, representing a 11.66% share in exports), food and beverages  (+10.49% or a 1.57 billion euro increase in exports, representing a 5.49% share in overall exports), optical and precision instruments (+14.27% and a 3.29% share in overall exports) and the textile sector (+11.2% or a 3.60% share).
  • In the top ten of export sectors, only two sectors saw their exports decline, the sector of the mineral products being the more severely affected with a decrease of the export value by 9.2 billion euro or -25,8%. According to Eurostat, this decline is not so much due to the shrinking export volume but rather to the dwindling oil price which has in the meantime reached its lowest level since 2009. The export market of the diamond sector also suffered losses up to 1.47 billion euro, which is a 8.4% decrease.
  • Flemish imports were worth 288.8 billion euro and maintained their level of 2014, with more imports from America and Asia and fewer from Europe and Africa. The slight decline can be entirely put down to the decline of mineral products (-24,1%). Barring mineral products, Flemish imports would even have risen by 6.1%. Other important sectors rose more than average, impinging on their share in overall imports. The chemicals and pharmaceutical sectors (+10.4%) and the transports equipment sector (+14.8%) saw their import figures rise most significantly.


The Government of Flanders gives prime priority to the internationalisation of the Flemish economy. Internationalisation is the lifeline of the Flemish economy. The export figures for 2015, which for the first time exceed 300 billion euro, prove this yet again. In Europe, these results put Flanders only behind Germany, the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom and Italy in the export ranking. The Government of Flanders makes maximum efforts for encouraging Flemish companies to sufficiently diversify their export markets and to explore new growth markets. The Flemish economic missions supply unique opportunities for this, offering a customised programme of thematic seminars, individual business appointments and network opportunities. This year, missions have been already been organised to Cuba and today’s mission takes us to India, the biggest Flemish economic mission ever. A mission to Iran has been scheduled for the end of the year. 

Geert Bourgeois, , Minister-President of Flanders

This figure proves the importance of exports for the Flemish economy and hence for our prosperity. Flanders Investment & Trade reviews its offices networks every year in order to be able to react promptly to a changing economic reality and detect opportunities for our companies in the process,. This year too, we will be reinforcing the network on strategic locations worldwide. We are opening an office in Vilnius (Lithuania) on 10 May, which will be followed by later openings of offices in Lagos (Nigeria), Houston (USA) and Yagon (Myanmar). Through its strong  network with offices in more than 100 locations in the world, FIT helps Flemish businesses on an everyday basis in reaping international success.

Claire Tillekaerts, CEO Flanders Investment & Trade

27 April 2016