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2021 was a record year for exports from Flanders

It’s no secret that Flanders’ strategic location, logistics excellence and other business advantages make the region an international trade powerhouse. In this regard, Flanders’ goods export value reached a new record level in 2021, amounting to EUR 380.5 billion and growing by over a quarter. What’s more, this figure is over 17% higher than in 2019 – just before the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit – and 16% higher than the previous record in 2018.

Several reasons can explain this strong growth. For example, there was an economic recovery following the global pandemic, increasing both the demand for and the prices of many products. The export of COVID-19 vaccines also had a major effect.

That fact that Flanders’ exports achieved a record figure in 2021 shows that our region’s business and export community is agile in the face of challenges posed by COVID and Brexit, among other things. Recently, the geopolitical situation and world trade have become more turbulent. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, it’s very difficult to predict if exports from Flanders will also break records in 2022. Together with our partner organizations, our team stands ready to guide companies through this period of uncertainty and instability.

Claire Tillekaerts
CEO of Flanders Investment & Trade

Leading export region in Belgium and Europe

In 2021, Flanders’ exports (+27.6%) grew faster than the European average (+18.9%). The region’s exports rose at a stronger rate than major export-driven countries such as Germany (+14.1%), the Netherlands (+20%), France (+15.8%), Italy (+18.2%) and Spain (20.7%). Flanders’ export growth was also well above the UK’s (+9.5%).

Furthermore, within Belgium, Flanders’ exports grew faster than those from the Walloon Region (+19.7%) and the Brussels-Capital Region (+2.7%). As such, Flanders accounted for almost 82% of Belgian exports last year.

Flagship sectors

Zooming in on different sectors, the rise in exports of pharmaceutical and chemical products – up by 42.4% in 2021 – contributed greatly to Flanders’ overall export growth. The central role played by the region in the production and worldwide distribution of COVID-19 vaccines was a real boost for exports. Vaccines alone accounted for a value increase of EUR 25.3 billion. But even without taking these products into account, Flanders’ overall exports would have risen sharply by 19.4%.

Other flagships of Flanders’ exports are:

  • mineral and energy products, which grew by 76% in 2021, driven by rising demand and price volatility;
  • mechanical engineering, which accounted for 11.5% more exports than in 2020;
  • the automotive industry, which had an increase of only 1.9%. This is partly due to the drop in exports to the UK because of Brexit. However, British demand had been declining for some time. Shortages of components also played a role.

Flanders’ top 10 export products (in EUR billion)

Pharmaceuticals & chemicals 105.4
Mineral products 37.9
Transport equipment 37.4
Machines, mechanical products, electr(on)ic equipment & components 37.4
Plastics  32
Base metals 28.5
Food & beverages  21.4
Precious stones and metals  18.4
Textiles 11.5
Optical products & precision equipment 9.5

Highly connected to European markets – and the world

Throughout 2021, Flanders-based companies mainly exported to other EU countries. In fact, intra-Community trade represented 64.5% of Flanders’ exports. That’s a slight increase compared to 2020, when that share was at 63%. More than half (55%) of exports from Flanders go to 5 countries, 4 of which have been increasing their demand compared to 2020: Germany (+35%), the Netherlands (+33.9%), France (26.1%), the UK (-2.6%) and the US (+12.4%). However, exports to Italy (+16.9%), Spain (+28.8%), Poland (+40%) and Japan (+163.5%) also increased strongly.

Flanders’ top 10 export destinations (in EUR billion)

Germany  70.4
Netherlands 49.3
France 46.8
UK 23.8
US  19.7
Italy  18.1
Spain  10.3
Poland  10
China  7.2
Japan 7.1

European markets outside the EU – including post-Brexit UK – accounted for 11.1% of exports from Flanders in 2021. Worth noting is the 2.6% drop in exports to the UK, making the country one of Flanders’ few top export destinations to experience a downward trend.

About one quarter (24.4%) of exports from Flanders go to continents other than Europe. Overall, the region’s exports demonstrated strong growth in North America (+16.7%), Central America (+30.9%), South America (+30.7%), Asia (+40.5%), the Middle East (+37%), Africa (+51.1%) and Oceania (+49.4%).

Conquer international markets from Flanders

These results only add to Flanders’ international position as a strong, highly connected, open and easily accessible export region. Want to use Flanders as your company’s international trade springboard as well? Learn how to set up a business in the region and connect your company to Europe and the world in no time.

Want to find out more about Flanders’ business and innovative track record for pharma, life science & health? Check out the Flanders360 platform.

Reported by
Flanders Investment & Trade
29 March 2022

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