Belgian businesses (mostly) welcome measures to boost the post-lockdown economy

Belgian businesses (mostly) welcome measures to boost the post-lockdown economy
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Business federations and representatives have responded mainly positively to the measures announced yesterday by the Superkern, aimed at boosting the economy as the lockdown continues to be dismantled.

"The cut in VAT for the hospitality industry to 6%, the extension of the compensation for closure and parental leave for the self-employed until the end of August, as well as temporary unemployment until the end of December were completely in line with our wishes, since all sectors have not yet been able to reopen,” said Christine Mattheeuws, president of the Neutral Union for the Self-Employed (SNI).

The same goes for the partial exemption from withholding tax for the next 3 months,” she added.

However the SNI said it regrets that nothing has been said about interest-free loans which would be “a real lifeline for many”. The Superkern also failed to tackle the question of rent relief for businesses, despite this being “one of the most important expense items for many independents.”

Another group representing the self-employed, the SDI, also welcomed the measures.

They constitute a very positive signal for the horeca sector, even if they may have to be strengthened for a certain number of businesses which have no financial reserves,” the SDI said in a statement.

The federation also welcomed the extension of unemployment for force majeure at least until the end of the summer, while continuing to call for measures to reduce the rent burden for small businesses that have been hard-hit by the crisis.

Lastly, the SDI is repeated its call for the extension until December 31 of the moratorium on bankruptcies for all companies in difficulties, as long as their finances were healthy before the start of the crisis.

For Horeca Vlaanderen, the industry federation for the restaurants and bars, the measures are “a hugely important signal,” said managing director Matthias De Caluwe.

This is some major leverage. Every steak that people eat, and every coffee they drink, now means more margin for the business owner tanks to the reduction of VAT.”

The measure, he said, had never been intended by his sector nor by the government to lead to lower prices. The VAT reduction was urgently needed to increase the already low margins in the industry, now that the sector has been at a standstill for months and must restart at lower capacity on Monday. “Very good news. This provides the necessary oxygen,” he said.

The construction sector had been expecting a VAT reduction of its own, but now said it feels forgotten by the measures announced.

According to Robert de Mûelenaere, managing director of the Construction Confederation, the fact that a VAT reduction did not make up part of the package is a wrong choice the government needs to rectify as soon as possible. If not, there will be job losses and bankruptcies. “That is a certainty,” he said.

According to the confederation, 10,000 to 20,000 jobs are likely to be lost in the sector if measures are not taken, such as a temporary reduction of VAT for new construction and an extension of temporary unemployment until the end of this year.

Finally, the Flemish employers’ organisation Voka also welcomed the support measures, but called them “seriously insufficient for a real recovery”.

For our economy to recover, much more is needed. We will not be able to get there with temporary measures,” said CEO Hans Maertens.

Urgent longer-term interventions are now needed, such as restoring the solvency of companies, stimulating investment and a more flexible organisation of labour.”

Alan Hope

The Brussels Times

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