Exports by Flemish companies over the last two months fell to less than one-third of their normal level, according to the region’s chamber of commerce Voka.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen the closure of borders in many countries, as well as a calamitous drop in economic activity in general, exports have been severely hit.
In Belgium, 30% of jobs depend on exports, and Flanders is responsible for the lion’s share of the country’s exports – €280 billion in 2019.
Voka is carrying out a weekly poll of its member companies, some 900 of them, and the responses now show half expecting an upturn in the summer at the earliest.
“That is downright alarming for a country where 30 percent of jobs depend on exports,” said Voka’s managing director Hans Maertens.
While the total level of exports now is at less than one-third of normal, some companies have it even worse, with one in four exporting three-quarters less.
“We are in danger of exporting well below par for another six months,” Maertens said. “Our politicians therefore urgently need to work on an expansion strategy for our exports, because much of our prosperity and jobs depend on it.”
That strategy would have to provide the means to overcome some of the problems that have come to light since the start of the corona crisis.
One in five companies polled said they had problems with international travel for professional staff.
“There is an urgent need for a uniform procedure for professional travel throughout the EU, to allow employees to become internationally active again,” Maertens said.
Meanwhile the importance of companies that are internationally active to the economy of the region and the country has led Voka to launch its own programme, called Mercurio, aimed at giving support to companies that would like to move into international markets.