Belgium Economic Situation after World War II

Belgium has a population of 9.2 million residents on an area of 30,507 km 2, with an average density of 300 residents / km 2 ; in the last decade there has therefore been an increase of just over half a million residents, that is about 6% compared to the 1948 population.

Of the 3,050,700 hectares of the territorial surface, 926,000 (30.4%) are dedicated to crops, 695,000 (22.8%) to meadows and pastures, 591,000 (19.4%) are covered by woods and the rest by land uncultivated and unproductive soil.

Almost 57% of the cultivated land is dedicated to cereals (522,000 ha), among which wheat (215,000 ha and 7.8 million q) and barley (94,000 ha and 3.2 million q) are significantly increased compared to the pre-war period, while oats (139,000 ha and 4.4 million q) and rye (63,000 ha and 2 million q) underwent a sharp contraction. Other notable productions, almost all increased over the last decade, are those of potatoes (20 million q), legumes (peas 210,000 q, beans 90,000 q, beans 10,000 q), sugar beet (28 million q) and for fodder (50 million q), chicory (560,000 q), flax (200,000 q of fiber and 2 million q of straw) and tobacco (30,000 q). Greenhouse crops cover over 1000 ha and yield large quantities of vegetables, flowers and fruit.

According to smber, the scarcity of agricultural labor – which is being overcome with the development of mechanization (over 40,000 tractors and as many harvesters in 1959) – and the greater consumption of meat and dairy products have led to a sharp increase in cattle breeding. (2.6 million in 1959 against 1.7 in 1946), pigs (1.3 million in 1959 against 700,000 in 1946) and sheep-goats (250,000 in 1959 against 210,000 in 1946), while that of equines has decreased. (180,000 in 1959 against 300,000 in 1946), due to the lesser use of horses in agricultural work and military transport. Fishing is also slightly decreasing (about 600,000 q of landed fish, for 1/4 herring), which has a fleet of boats and motor fishing boats with a total tonnage of 30,000 tons.

But, despite the intensive nature and recent progress of agriculture and livestock, the economy of Belgium is mainly based on industries, which today have, in almost all sectors, production indices considerably higher than pre-war ones, even though they have to record in the last two years a slight decrease in coal, steel, metallurgical and textile production due to the world recession and the high cost of labor, which places Belgium in conditions of inferiority compared to the other states adhering to the ECSC and the MEC.

Coal production, after exceeding 30 million tonnes in 1952 and 1953, subsequently contracted to 27 million tonnes in 1958, due to the high costs and difficulties of extraction, while imports increased. of fatty coals, of which the Belgian subsoil is poor, and which arrive from the Ruhr and the Netherlands at prices considerably lower than those of Belgian coal itself. On the other hand, the production of electricity is on the rise (12.2 billion kWh in 1958, 98% of which is of thermal origin), which has almost doubled in the last decade. Two 15,000 kWh nuclear power plants are planned, which will be fueled with uranium obtained from radioactive minerals from the Belgian Congo (1000 t of uranium oxide produced in 1958).

The current production of cast iron (5.5 million t) and steel (6 million t), although more than double that of 1938 and 1948, has slightly decreased compared to the maximum level reached in 1956 (5, 8 million tons of cast iron and 6.4 million tons of steel). The processing of zinc (236,000 t in 1956, 215,000 t in 1958) and lead (100,000 t in 1956, 96,000 t in 1958) has also decreased in the last two years, while that of copper is increasing (155,000 t in 1958). Cement production, after reaching 4.7 million tonnes in 1957, decreased to 4.1 million tonnes in 1958. Production in the textile industries also contracted and fell between 1957 and 1958 from 111,000 to 86,000 t for cotton yarn, from 47,000 to 38,000 t for wool, from 11,000 to 8,000 t for linen and from 13,000 to 10.

Among the other industrial productions, almost all in continuous increase, we still remember those of paper (370,000 t), footwear (10 million pairs), slippers (7.5 million pairs), leather, glass, tobacco, margarine (the million q), beer (10 million hectoliters), sugar (3.8 million q), alcohol (270,000 hectoliters), dairy products, canned food, rubber, of chemical fertilizers, chemicals and petroleum derivatives, processed in the large refineries of the port of Antwerp.

In the last decade there has been a notable expansion of the roads and means of communication, the traffic of which has considerably increased compared to the pre-war period, especially in the maritime and air sectors. Belgium currently has a road network of 46,000 km, including 11,000 km of highways, including the Brussels-Ostend motorway, a railway network of 4,860 km, plus 7,000 km of secondary and local lines, and of 1570 km of inland waterways (canals and navigable rivers). There are over 800,000 vehicles in circulation, with a very high ratio of one vehicle to every 11 residents.

In 1958 the goods transported by the railways amounted to almost 60 million tons and those transported by inland waterway to 52 million tons. In the ports of Belgium there was a total movement, in 1958, of 24 million tons of goods landed (of which 21 million in the port of Antwerp alone) and 17 million tons of goods loaded (of which 15 million to Antwerp). The merchant fleet is made up of 200 ships with a total tonnage of 600,000 tons, considerably higher than that of 1948.

Air transport has recently had a great development, managed by SABENA (Société Anonyme Belge d’Exploitation de la Navigation Aérienne), whose network extends over all of Europe, Africa, the Middle East and North America, with 190,000 km of lines. In 1958, Sabena’s air traffic was 1,200 million passengers / km and 35 million t / km of freight, mail and baggage; in the same year, the large Brussels airport (Melsbroek) recorded a total movement of 53,000 aircraft, 1.1 million passengers and 36,000 tons of freight. For some years, Sabena has also established air services by means of helicopters, the network of which radiates from the Allée Verte heliport in Brussels to those in Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Lille, Paris, Bonn, Cologne and Dortmund.

Belgium , already united with Luxembourg in the Belgian-Luxembourg Economic Union (BLEU) since 1922, formed a customs union in 1948, together with Luxembourg and the Netherlands, which was transformed into an economic union in 1958 (see benelux, in this App.). The foreign trade of the BLEU has increased sharply in the last decade, both in the quantity and in the value of the goods.

Between 1948 and 1958 (whose values ​​show a slight decrease compared to the peaks reached in 1957), imports rose from 29.2 million to 57 million t and from 87 billion to 156.5 billion Belgian francs, and exports increased from 15.1 million to 27.7 million t and from 75 billion to 152.3 billion Belgian francs. Exports currently cover 97% of imports, but the balance of payments is certainly active due to the contribution of capital invested abroad and the tourist movement, which in 1958, on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition in Brussels, recorded over 16 million foreign visitors.

In 1958, in value, imports consisted of 21% of manufactured articles (yarns, fabrics, paper, precious metals, metal articles), 19% of machines and transport material, 18% of fuels fossils, 13% from food products, 7% from chemicals and the remaining 8% from various products. The value of exports is given for 55% by manufactured items (metals, precious stones, yarns, fabrics, cement), for 14% by machines and transport material, for 8% by chemicals, for 6% from fossil fuels and petroleum products, 6% from raw materials (especially linen), 5% from food products and the remaining 6% from various products.

In 1958, more than three-fifths of imports from the BLEU came in value from just five countries: West Germany 17.3%, Netherlands 16%, France 11.6%, USA 10%, Belgian Congo 5.3%; followed by Sweden with 3.1%, Italy and Persia with 2.2% each, and, with percentages between 1% and 2%, Switzerland, Australia, Argentina and Canada. In the same year, BLEU exports were mainly destined for the Netherlands (21.2% of the total value), West Germany (11.5%), France (10.5%), the USA (9.5%).), the Belgian Congo (4%), Switzerland (2.9%), Sweden (2.7%), Italy (2.3%) and Argentina (2.1%). For trade within the Benelux see also B enelux, in this App.

Commercial exchanges between the BLEU and Italy have more than doubled in value over the last decade and reached 3,360 million Belgian francs (equal to approximately 42 billion Italian lire) for imports from Italy (fruit, legumes, vegetables, rice, artificial textiles, cars) and the 3,450 million Belgian francs (equal to 43 billion lire) for exports to Italy (iron, steel, coal, non-ferrous metals, wool, chemicals, textile machinery, concrete).

Belgium Economic Situation after World War II