Belgium has much fertile and well-watered soil, although agriculture engages only a small percentage of the workforce. The chief crops are wheat, oats, rye, barley, flax, sugar beets, vegetables, fruits, and tobacco. Cattle and pig raising as well as dairying (especially in Flanders) are also important.
Belgium's economy is reliant on services, transportation, trade, and industry. Coal mining, which has declined in recent years, and the production of steel and chemicals are concentrated in the Sambre and Meuse valleys, in the Borinage around Mons, Charleroi, Namur, and Liège, and in the Campine coal basin. Liège is a major steel center. A well-established metal-products industry manufactures bridges, heavy machinery, industrial and surgical equipment, motor vehicles, rolling stock, machine tools, and munitions. Chemical products include fertilizers, dyes, pharmaceuticals, and plastics; the petrochemical industry is concentrated near the oil refineries of Antwerp.
Textile production, which began in the Middle Ages, includes cotton, linen, wool, and synthetic fibers; carpets and blankets are important manufactures. Ghent, Kortrijk, Tournai, and Verviers are all textile centers; Mechelen, Bruges, and Brussels are celebrated for their lace. Other industries include diamond cutting (Antwerp is an important diamond center), glass production, and the processing of leather and wood. Over 75% of Belgium's electricity is produced by nuclear power. Belgian industry is heavily dependent upon imports for its raw materials. Most iron comes from the Lorraine basin in France, while nonferrous metal products made from imported raw materials include zinc, copper, lead, and tin.
Industrial centers are linked with each other and with the main ports of Antwerp and Ghent by the Meuse and Scheldt rivers and their tributaries, by a network of canals (notably the Albert Canal), and by a dense railroad system. Belgium exports machinery and equipment, chemicals, diamonds, metals and metal products, and processed foods. The main imports are machinery, chemicals, raw diamonds, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, transportation equipment, and petroleum products. About 75% of trade is with other European Union countries, chiefly Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Great Britain.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.