The economic importance of the Belgian ports : Flemish maritime ports, Liège port complex and the port of Brussels – Report 2017

Working Paper N° 368

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Abstract

This Working Paper analyses the economic importance of the Belgian ports largely based on annual accounts data for the year 2017. As the years prior to 2017 have been described in earlier papers in the same series, the emphasis lies on the figures for 2017 and the developments between 2016 and 2017 .

After the stagnation in 2016, direct value added at the Belgian ports rose by 7.3% from € 18 052 million to € 19  368 million (current prices) or roughly 4.4% of Belgium’s GDP. All ports, with the exception of the Liège port complex, contributed to value added growth at the Belgian ports. The ports of Antwerp and Ghent were the most important players. The biggest contributing sectors to value added growth were the chemical industry and, to a lesser extent, cargo handling and the metalworking industry. In 2017, indirect value added was around 82% of direct value added.

Direct value added increased significantly at the ports of Ghent, Brussels and Antwerp, by 13.4%,  16.0% and 6.1% respectively. The increase by more than 3% of direct value added at the ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend was also substantial. Direct value added fell by 2.4% at the Liège port complex.

After the decline between 2012 and 2015, direct employment at the Belgian ports was up for the second year in a row. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of direct full-time equivalent jobs rose by 0.8%, from 115 401 to 116 311 or approximately 2.8% of Belgium’s total domestic employment. All ports, with the exception of Ostend and Brussels, contributed to employment growth at the Belgian ports. The ports of Antwerp and Ghent were the  most important players. The biggest contributing sectors to employment growth were cargo handling and, to a lesser extent, the chemical industry. In 2017, indirect employment was around 120% of direct employment.

Direct employment increased by around 1% at the ports of Antwerp, Ghent and Zeebrugge. Growth at the Liège port complex was more modest at 0.4%. The number of direct full-time equivalent jobs fell at the ports of Ostend and Brussels, by 1.2% and 4.2% respectively.

The pattern of investment is closely linked to projects and is therefore highly volatile. After the decline between 2012 and 2014, direct investment at the Belgian ports was up for the third year in a row. Between 2016 and 2017, investment was up by 2.4%, from € 4 711 million to € 4 825 million. The port of Ghent and, to a lesser extent, the Liège port complex contributed to investment growth at the Belgian ports. The biggest contributing sectors to investment growth were the ‘port construction and dredging’ sector and, to a lesser extent, cargo handling, and the energy and chemical industries.

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.      

As a supplier to both China and the United States, Belgium is indirectly involved in trade between the two countries. If protectionism would close the United States off to exports from abroad, Belgian economy might get impacted one of the most in Europe.