Over the past three decades, imports from China have grown much faster than total goods imports into our country. In 2022, this import value has reached a new high: according to statistics from the Belgian Foreign Trade Agency, the import from China reached EUR 35.3 billion, an increase of almost 42.5%, compared to 2021. This may look surprising, as 2022 was the year of severe Covid lockdowns across China, high freight prices, the war in Ukraine, continued US-China geopolitical tensions and other economic and supply chain challenges.
Despite these unprecedented crises, it can be said that Belgium has never imported more from China than in the last three years! Comparing the total import value for 2022 with that of 2019 (EUR 16.9 billion; pre-Covid), the import from China has more than doubled in just 3 years. China is Belgium’s fourth biggest supplier, with machinery and equipment (31.8%), transport equipment (14.4%) and miscellaneous manufactured articles (10.8%) taking the biggest share of the import value.
A relatively large number of high-tech products, such as computers, laptops and mobile phones, originate from China. The top five most important import products also include clothing, televisions, screens and projectors. And finally, in recent years Belgium started importing many electric vehicles from China. Important to mention is that Belgium, with its logistics infrastructure and operators, is a gateway to European markets: about two-thirds of imported goods from China are intended for re-export to other countries.
Over the same period, Belgian exports to China have only developed slowly. In 2022, Belgium exported for a total value of EUR 7.8 billion to China, which is even a decrease of 2.8% compared to the export value in 2021. China is Belgium’s 12th biggest client and one of the biggest export destinations outside the EU, with chemicals (31.8%), machinery and equipment (16.8%) and plastics (10.9%) as the most important industries. As a result, the negative trade balance between Belgium and China decreased to EUR 27.5 billion in 2022.
Similar evolutions can be seen in Belgium’s neighboring countries, such as the Netherlands, Germany and France. This is clearly an indication that, even if governments, companies and consumers talk about ‘decoupling’, statistics tell a different story: Belgium’s trade with China continues to grow as never before. Obviously, for the year 2023 the expectations may look a little different. Many European companies still have huge stock levels and Chinese factories are waiting for orders. It can be expected that the import level from China to Belgium may not increase as fast as the past years.
Please contact the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC) in case you need more information.