Economic importance of the Belgian maritime and inland ports – Report 2019

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The main purpose of this Working Paper is providing an overview of the economic importance of the Flemish maritime ports, the Liège port complex and the port of Brussels over the period 2014–2019 in terms of value added, employment and investment based on annual account figures.

In 2019, Belgian ports generated € 32.2 billion in direct and indirect value added (6.8% of Belgian GDP) and employed 254 009 full-time equivalents (FTEs) either directly or indirectly (5.9% of Belgian domestic employment including the self-employed).

Direct employment at Belgian ports rose by 2% in 2019 mainly due to additional jobs in the cargo handling. Other sectors generated extra jobs too. All Belgian ports except for Brussels contributed to the overall job growth.

Direct value added at Belgian ports grew by 1.4% in 2019. The increase was particularly evident at the ports of Antwerp and Liège, partly owing to wider capacity at nuclear power plants, after lower capacity in 2018. At the port of Antwerp, shipping companies faced higher value added. All Belgian ports enjoyed a rise in direct value added.

After a high investment volume in 2018 thanks to a merger among shipping companies direct investment by all Belgian ports together bounced back by 22.9% to a level of € 4.8 billion in 2019, an amount quite similar to that seen two years before.

Sea transport is the dominant transport mode of Belgian international trade in terms of volumes to countries outside the EU. The trend in international trade by shipping is explored, with a particular focus on the trade situation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To contain the spread of COVID-19, governments worldwide imposed stringent containment measures that resulted in huge economic disruptions. A first glimpse of the impact on Belgian ports in 2020 is provided, based on monthly turnover figures.