Life sciences in Belgium: Unprecedented export growth in the pharmaceutical industry
Since the outbreak of the corona crisis, the whole world has turned its attention to the vaccines, therapies and innovations of the Belgian pharmaceutical sector. This translates into remarkable export figures, which have risen by no less than 70 per cent over the past two years.
Belgium is one of the world leaders in the pharmaceutical industry. The sector is a driver of innovation and by 2021 is investing 14 million euro every day in research and development. Moreover, biopharmaceuticals are exported from Belgium on a daily basis to the tune of approximately 230 million euro, a notable increase from 2020, when daily exports amounted to 150 million euro.
Over the past two years, exports have risen by no less than 70 percent, representing 18 percent of total Belgian exports. The Belgian pharmaceutical sector trades its products both within the European Union and far beyond. Within Europe, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands are important trade partners. Outside the EU, it is mainly the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Switzerland and Canada that are demanding partners.
With a trade balance surplus of more than 23 billion euro, the biopharmaceutical companies in our country are at the top of Europe. Every year, the sector invests more than one and a half billion euro in Research & Development (R&D). This corresponds to 40 percent of all private investments in the field of R&D in Belgium, or double the European average.
As a world leader in the biopharmaceutical industry, Belgium also has a positive and growing employment trend. Over the past five years, the number of employees has increased by 18.7 percent to 40,464 people. This figure rises to 130,000 jobs if all the indirect jobs are included. One third of this increase took place in 2020, with a growth of more than five percent. Almost 90 percent of Belgian companies in the sector are SMEs.
In total, the pharmaceutical sector represents five percent of Belgium's gross national product. In 2021, it represented twenty percent of the total added value of Belgian industry. In 2020, companies conducting basic research in Belgium invested 4.96 billion euro in R&D, an increase of 29 percent compared to 2019. The economic value of the sector is therefore considerable. The added value, productivity and employment are increasing every year.
Support from government
The Belgian government is also supporting the pharmaceutical sector. It does so through fiscal measures and tax breaks, and by supporting the recruitment of skilled researchers. There is also a consultation platform between the sector and the government, which aims to promote public health, innovation and employment.
Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry is also increasingly using modern biotechnology to produce medicines. This does not mean that all drugs are themselves biotech products, but rather that biotech has had a hand in their development. Most products currently being developed by the pharmaceutical industry are already based on biotechnology.
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