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Working Paper Document 86
This paper is an annual publication prepared by the Microeconomic Analysis unit of the National Bank of Belgium. The Flemish maritime ports -Antwerp, Ghent, Ostend, Zeebrugge- and the Autonomous Port of Liège play a major role in their respective regional economies and in the Belgian economy, not only in terms of the industries they encompass but also as intermodal centres where transhipment and industrial activities are concentrated. This update1 paper provides for the first time an extensive overview of the economic importance and development of the Flemish maritime ports together with the Liège port complex in 2004. The results for the rest of the period 1999 - 2003 have also been updated. Focusing on the three major variables of value added, employment and investment, the report also provides some information about the financial situation of several vital sectors in each port. A global indication concerning the financial health of the companies studied is also provided, using the NBB bankruptcy prediction model. In addition, it includes figures with respect to the ongoing growth of several cargo traffic segments and provides an overall picture of socio-economic developments in the ports. Annual accounts data from the Central Balance Sheet Office were used for the calculation of direct effects, the study of financial ratios and the analysis of the social balance sheet. The indirect effects of the activities concerned were estimated in terms of value added and employment, on the basis of data from the National Accounts Institute. 2004 was an excellent year for the Flemish maritime ports as a whole, in terms of the quantity of handled cargo and the value added produced. But the employment situation was more mixed, and private investment dropped. The ongoing developments in the maritime ports sector and in the world economy are having a dramatic impact on the operations of the Flemish ports, which have to deal with the global trend of increasing international competition, expansion and dispersion of foreign trade, capital concentration, privatisation and vertical integration of port logistic services, increase in containerised shipments, and so forth. At the same time, as major logistic centres, they have to face a dual challenge: increasing demand in terms of capacity, and the necessity to add climate of increasing regional and international competition, not only within the Hamburg - Le Havre range but also from Asian markets. The port of Liège, still the second largest inland port in Europe, is striving to turn a threat into an opportunity. Although the Cockerill Sambre blast furnaces are being closed, that is creating new space and the overall Liège port complex is being restructured. In spite of this climate of uncertainty, the main goal of the Autonomous Port of Liège is to establish itself as a major logistic centre in the region, able to attract new businesses. In the meantime, the short-term impact on employment is negative, as direct employment decreased substantially in 2004, whereas value added and investment made up for the ground lost in 2003. The present report tackles all these issues by giving details per economic sector.
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