Original publication: November 2018
Author: PROTRANS – Marcin Wołek
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2ArSFBC
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Belgium has an area of 30,528 km² and the country is inhabited by 11.4 million people making it the ninth country in the EU in terms of population. One of the Belgium’s trade advantages is its central geographic location in the European Union (EU). In 2017, the country’s GDP reached EUR 439 billion at market prices[1]. In the same year, Belgium recorded an exports value of EUR 381 billion, imports worth of EUR 360 billion)[2]. The majority of Belgium’s trading partners are the EU Member States led by Germany, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The top three export goods of Belgium are motor vehicles and parts, pharmaceuticals and organic chemicals, while the top three imports goods include motor vehicles and parts, oil and mineral fuels, and pharmaceuticals[3].

Transport and tourism in Belgium, France and the Netherlands

© Image used under the license from Shutterstock.com

With a territory of 551,695 km² and 67 million inhabitants, France is ranked the largest country in the EU in terms of area and the second in terms of population[4]. In 2017, France’s economy grew by 2.2% compared to 2016 (the best result since the financial crisis in 2008)[5]. The economy of France is highly developed and competitive. The country is one of the global leaders in the automotive (this sector accounted for 10.4 % of the country’s exports of goods in 2016[6], aerospace and railway sectors, as well as in cosmetics and luxury goods. In 2017, France’s exports amounted to EUR 474 billion and its imports reached EUR 553 billion. In the same year, Germany was the country’s closest trading partner in both import and export. It was followed by the United States of America, Belgium and Italy in France’s exports of goods, and by China, Italy and Belgium in the country’s imports[7].

France’s most important export goods are planes, helicopters and spacecrafts, packaged medicaments, cars and vehicle parts and gas turbines, while cars, aircraft parts, crude petroleum and packaged medicaments  constitute the most significant categories of goods imported by France[8].

The Netherlands has an area of 41,543 km² (the 23rd place in the EU) and a population of 17 million people, ranking the country on the eighth position in the EU in terms of population. Three island territories in the Caribbean (Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba) belong to the Netherlands. Being a neighbour of Belgium, the Netherlands benefits from a central geographic location in the EU, which is one of the country’s most important trade advantages. Presently, the economy of the Netherlands is ranked the 28th in the world by purchasing power parity GDP[9]. In 2017, the country’s GDP at market prices reached EUR 737 billion[10].The country enjoy a high level of economic freedom and it was ranked the second worldwide in the Global Enabling Trade Report in 2016[11].The Netherlands, like Belgium has a positive trade balance. In 2017, the Netherlands exports amounted to EUR 577 billion, while imports totalled EUR 509 billion[12]. The most important export partners of the Netherlands comprise Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, France and the United States of America. The most important import partners of the Netherlands are Germany, Belgium, China, the United States of America and the United Kingdom[13].

According to the Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018, the three above countries have highly competitive economies[14], the Netherlands being the fourth, Belgium the 20th and France the 22th worldwide.

General information on transport

Transport plays an important role for the economies of the three countries, although in a different way in each of the above states, particularly when analysing the sector’s modal split or its impact on the employment and the whole economy. In 2015, transport was responsible for 4.3% of employment in the Netherlands, 5.5% in Belgium and 5.6% in France. At the same time, the share of value added by the transport sector ranged from 4.7% in France, 5.3% in the Netherlands to 5.4% in Belgium[15].

Road transport is the dominant mode in freight inland operations in Belgium and France (in tonne-kilometres). It represents the highest share in France (86%), while going down to 73% in Belgium, where inland waterways and railways jointly have more than one-fourth of the total inland freight volume. In the Netherlands, the freight market is influenced by a strong position of inland waterway transport, which has the market share comparable to that of the road transport (please see Figure 1 below).

Concerning the passenger transport, cars constitute a prevailing mode of travelling in the three countries, with their market shares spanning from 81% in Belgium to 86% in the Netherlands in 2015. The share of railway transport in the three countries remains stable with, one-tenth of each passenger-kilometres on average being performed by trains. Motor coaches and buses play an important role only in Belgium. Recent deregulation of long distance bus market in France (which was possible thanks to the August 6th 2015 Act) led to the increase of intermodal competition. Main competitor to rail passenger long distance services are inter-city coaches with high dynamics of growth (17% in 2016)[16].Figure 1: Freight modal split, 2016 (% of total inland tkm)

[1]     Eurostat database – GDP and main components
[2]     Eurostat database – International trade, by reporting country.
[3]     World Bank – World Integrated Trade Solutions – Belgium trade summary 2016 data.
[4]     Eurostat database – Population by age and sex on 1 January 2018.
[5]     International Monetary Fund database – Real GDP growth.
[6]     Statista – the statistics portal – Share of the automotive sector in the export of goods in France from 2012 to 2016.
[7]     World Bank – World Integrated Trade Solutions – France trade summary 2016 data.
[8]     Observatory of Economic Complexity – Country profile – France.
[9]     International Monetary Fund database – Real GDP growth.
[10]     Eurostat database – GDP and main components.
[11]     Global Enabling Trade Report 2016, a joint publication of the World Economic Forum and the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation. The Report features the Enabling Trade Index, which evaluates 136 economies based on their capacity to facilitate the flow of goods over borders and to their destination .
[12]     Eurostat database,  EU International trade by reporting country, 2006-2017.  
[13]     World Bank database, www.wits.worldbank.org.
[14]     World Economic Forum – Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018, Geneva 2018. The Report includes 137 countries and measures national competitiveness defined as the set of institutions, policies and factors that determine the level of productivity.
[15]     Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – Statistics on transport – Performance indicators. Indicators: Economic and social.
[16]     The French Passenger Rail Transport Market 2015-2016. Observatory of Transport and Mobility, Arafer, p. 5.

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