Facts & Figures
The trade relationship between Belgium and the United States is of great importance for both countries, and it is by no means a one way street.
- The U.S. is the number one trading partner for Belgium outside the EU
- It is Belgium’s fifth trading partner: the fifth export destination for Belgium and the 4th supplier for Belgium
- Belgium is the 10 export destination for U.S. merchandise (2015), ahead of France and India
- Belgium is among the top 10 export destinations in about half the U.S. states
- The U.S. has maintained a trade surplus with Belgium since 2011
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, bilateral U.S.-Belgian trade was worth over $50 billion in 2015. This makes Belgium a larger trading partner for the U.S. than Australia, Russia, or Spain. Container ships, carrying over 4,000 containers a day, make Antwerp the leading port in the world for transport of goods to and from the United States.
Main Belgian exports to the U.S. include chemical products, machines and equipment, precious stones and metals, transport equipment, and mineral products. The U.S. has a particular strong position for trade in services.
More than 3,000 Belgian companies currently export to the U.S. market. Belgium imports mostly chemical products, machines and equipment, and mineral products.
|Top U.S. Export destinations ($ bln, merchandise, 2015)
(U.S. Dept. of Commerce, International Trade Administration
|United Arab Emirates||23.0|
The history of bilateral exchanges is almost four centuries old, dating back to Pierre Minuit’s arrival in Manhattan in 1625, and his purchasing the island the next year. Later on, from the 1840’s onward, thousands of Belgians settled in the Midwest and founded new communities, which they often named after their Belgian hometowns like Antwerp, Ohio and Namur, Wisconsin. These new Americans also brought with them their skills and talents, and were for instance responsible for building the glass industry in the U.S.
The Belgian contribution to the U.S. economy also includes the invention by Solvay brothers Ernest and Alfred of a new process for producing sodium carbonate, which revolutionized how Americans with little access to yeast on the frontier made their bread. Sodium carbonate imported into the U.S. was turned into sodium bicarbonate, baking soda. Even more than baking soda, plastic is ubiquitous today in every American home, and can be traced back to a Belgian inventor. It is indeed in the United States that Leo Bakeland developed the first synthetic polymer Bakelite in 1907. More recently, Belgian researchers received recently a series of prestigious American scientific awards, like the Ernesto Orlando Lawrence Award of the U.S. Department of Energy, the NIH Pioneer Award, and the Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research. Scientific ties between the U.S. and Belgium are enhanced by the Belgian American Educational Foundation (BAEF), the leading independent philanthropy in the support of exchanging university students, scientists and scholars between the United States and Belgium.
Similarly, Belgian entrepreneurs, business executives and scientists continue to be very active on the U.S. market. For example, Belgian nationals hold senior management positions at the highest levels with companies like Xerox, Johnson & Johnson, Boeing, Nike, Cargill and Procter & Gamble. From Bekaert to Solvay and ABInBev to Umicore, to name just a few, major Belgian corporations have also heavily invested in the U.S., where their goods and services have now often become part of the daily family or business environment in the United States. Beyond beer and chocolates, some of the less directly identifiable products from Belgium playing a prominent role in the U.S. are:
- NFL teams like the Denver Broncos and the Green Bay Packers play on hybrid grass surfaces made in Belgium.
- A free software package that allows an individual or a community of users to easily publish, manage and organize a wide variety of content on a website, used by the White House
- The Space Shuttle Endeavour was transported from the LA International Airport to the California Science Center by the Sarens Group from Belgium
- Non-polluting buses on fuel cells, providing public transportation buses for many U.S metropolitan areas transit systems, including Washington, DC and San Francisco
- A variety of drugs, such as epilepsy, allergy and HIV medications
- Miniaturized transmitters/receivers for patient motion tracking during radiotherapy
- The cargo inspection system designed to automatically detect nuclear threats in the U.S.
- Anti-anthrax processing method used for U.S. mail
- Audiovisual screens for American corporate jets, large display walls for the Command Centers of the US Coast Guard, large scoring boards and entertainment screens during US basketball games
Every year, Belgium is ranked among the World’s most open economies in the "Globalization Index", and it is part of numerous multilateral and bilateral trade and investment agreements, whether directly or through the European Union, including the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA). In the field of procurement, it also offers specific business opportunities for U.S. companies servicing the EU. Most tenders from European public contracting authorities for public supplies, whose value is above the agreed thresholds, are open to U.S.-based companies by virtue of the GPA. The Agreement allows U.S. firms to bid on all supplies and services, and some construction works contracts, above thresholds contracted by EU central public contracting authorities.
Belgium is also an excellent location to access NATO’s Security and Investment Program through NATO’s acquisition agencies. Both agencies procure goods and services through preferred suppliers and International Competitive Bidding (ICB) for larger projects. The investments cover communications and information systems, radar, military headquarters, airfields, fuel pipelines and storage, harbors, and navigational aids. It also includes Peace Support Operations such as SFOR and KFOR including communications, information systems, local headquarters facilities, power systems, and repairs to airfields, rail, and roads.