The economic importance of the Belgian ports : Flemish maritime ports, Liège port complex and the port of Brussels – Report 2016

Working Paper N° 342

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This Working Paper analyses the economic importance of the Belgian ports based largely on the annual accounts data for the year 2016. As the years prior to 2016 have been described in earlier papers in the same series, we mainly focus on the figures for 2016 and developments between 2015 and 2016.

On the back of strong growth, direct value added in the Belgian ports remained more or less stable in 2016 at around € 18 000 million (current prices) or roughly 4.3% of Belgium’s GDP. Direct value added declined in the Flemish seaports, mainly in the port of Antwerp. Ghent and Zeebrugge could only partly compensate for the fall in Antwerp’s value added, while Ostend showed a small decline itself. The inland ports as a whole grew over the period 2015-2016; the port of Brussels registered a decline and the Liège port complex an increase. Indirect value added is around 82% of the direct figure.

After declining from 2012, direct employment in the Belgian ports was more or less stable in 2016 at around 115 000 FTE or approximately 2.8% of Belgium’s total domestic employment. Direct employment in the Flemish seaports increased, mainly in the ports of Zeebrugge, Ghent and Antwerp. Ostend showed a decline in employment. The inland ports recorded lower employment; the port of Brussels registered a decline, as did the Liège port complex. Indirect employment is around 1.2 times the direct figure.

Delving deeper into the data and trying to explain the above trends in terms of the structural composition of the Belgian ports shows that all ports are concentrated on a few sectors, and within those sectors often on just a handful of companies.  

Based on the figures of the traffic, the Flemish ports can be considered as real bridgeheads for trade with the UK. Developments regarding the modalities and consequences of the Brexit therefor should be followed with the greatest attention. Given the existing import and export volumes in terms of tonnage, it seems it will mostly be a challenge in Zeebrugge and to some extent for Antwerp.