The economic importance of the Belgian ports

To meet the demand for rapidly available indicators signalling developments in value added and employment at Belgian ports, the National Bank of Belgium has since 2006 published a flash estimate based on the annual accounts filed up to the end of August.

It is issued just over six months prior to the publication of the annual study containing exhaustive statistics on the ports’ results.

This initial flash estimate reveals that overall value added and employment in the Belgian maritime ports declined in 2011, trends that should nevertheless be put into perspective.

Although value added generated in the Belgian maritime ports declined in 2011, value added produced by the non-maritime cluster nevertheless remained stable.
Yet there were major differences between ports in this cluster: value added was down in Ostend, Ghent and Antwerp but rising in Liège, Zeebrugge and Brussels.
For instance, the port of Antwerp had to cope with a collapse in value added generated in car manufacturing, while the Liège port complex posted a big increase in the sectors of fuel production and energy.

In the maritime cluster, it was only in the port of Antwerp, where business is strongly influenced by the shipping companies sector, where value added declined.
This branch of activity saw a sharp deterioration in its profitability in 2011, and some major shipping companies were particularly badly affected.

On the whole, employment in the Belgian maritime ports fell in 2011, both in the maritime and non-maritime cluster.
The ports of Liège, Ghent and Brussels saw increases in each cluster, unlike the ports of Antwerp, Zeebrugge and Ostend, where employment was down across the board.
In the ports of Liège and Antwerp, the trend in the non-maritime cluster, upward in the former and negative in the latter, is mainly attributable to industry.
The port of Brussels benefited from the reorganisation of a major group based in the port zone. Conversely, employment generated in the port of Ostend was hit by the reduction of shipping traffic and by a business closure of an industrial company.
Lastly, in Ghent, employment expanded considerably in cargo handling, while in Zeebrugge it shrank in several sectors of the maritime cluster.

These reductions in value added and employment do not seem to be consistent with the overall increase in traffic observed in the Belgian maritime ports in 2011.
There was nevertheless some divergence in developments from one port to another.

Volumes transshipped stagnated in the port of Ghent and dropped back at both Zeebrugge and Ostend. Even though its ro-ro traffic2 exceeded the 13 million tonne mark in 2011, the port of Zeebrugge suffered a decline in its containerised trafic and the volumes recorded by the port of Ostend were largely due to the contraction of its ro-ro traffic.
In the port of Antwerp, there was an increase in transshipments in all merchandise categories with the exception of solid bulk3.

You can find the press release here.