Belgium was the first country on the European continent to industrialize, following the lead of Britain in the industrial revolution. It remains one of the most highly industrialized countries of Europe, largely because of its geographical location and transport facilities. Industrial production increased steadily after World War II (1939-1945) but began to decline in the 1970s, when recession and obsolescence began seriously to erode many traditional sectors. Wallonia, which had been the center of the country’s traditional industries, was hit hard, while newer, lighter industries such as electronics developed in Flanders. In 2004 manufacturing accounted for only 17 percent of total economic activity.
Belgium is still a major producer of iron and steel, although production has fallen since the 1970s. About 11 million metric tons of crude steel were produced annually in the early 2000s. Belgium also has an old and important nonferrous metal industry. It was, for example, Europe’s largest zinc producer into the 1990s, although several European countries have since surpassed Belgium in zinc production. Belgium also furnishes metallurgical, chemical, and other industries with copper, lead, tin, and uranium. The availability of steel and nonferrous metals has encouraged the manufacture of heavy equipment, especially at Liège, Antwerp, and Brussels. Products include machine tools, railroad cars, diesel engines, pumps, and other industrial equipment.
The Belgian chemical industry began to develop in the 20th century and has become the country’s second largest manufacturing industry.
Like other heavy industries, it was stimulated by the availability of coal, which was used both for energy and as the raw material for such coal derivatives as benzol and tar. In the second half of the 20th century, petrochemicals, plastics, and pharmaceuticals gained in importance as coal mining declined. Antwerp has become a major petrochemical center. The textile industry, dating from the Middle Ages, produces cottons, woolens, linens, and synthetic textiles. With the exception of flax, all raw materials are imported.
But as world competition increased in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, textiles were produced more cheaply elsewhere. As a result, Belgium’s textile industry suffered; many plants closed or relocated, and textile production declined. Traditional Belgian handicrafts industries, such as lacemaking and tapestries, began their decline much earlier, but some still operate to cater to tourists. Brussels and Brugge were long noted for the manufacture of lace and damask. Antwerp is the leading diamond-cutting center in the world. It replaced Amsterdam in that role after World War II and today produces about 70 percent of the world’s finished diamonds. Encarta "Belgium" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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