Britain’s decision to leave Europe is likely to have a significant impact in Belgium, but Wallonia is arguably less exposed than Flanders to the potential economic fallout of the exit vote at Friday’s referendum in the UK. Wallonia’s exports last year to the United Kingdom, its fifth-largest client, amounted to two billion euros, while Flanders sales to the UK totalled more than 15 billion euros and its textile sector is closely tied to the British market.
“Yes, Brexit will have an impact on trade relations between Belgium and the United Kingdom,” says Pascal Delcomminette, general manager the Wallonia Foreign Trade and Investment Agency, AWEX. However, the figures are uncertain. “It will probably have a higher cost for those wishing to export,” she argues.
In 2015, the United Kingdom accounted for 7% of Wallonia’s exports, mostly chemicals, pharmaceuticals, machinery, equipment, optical goods, plastics, metals and food products. Thanks to its open economy, Flanders exported 15.2 billion euros (8.1% of its exports) to Britain, with textiles, food products and transport topping the list.
The textile industry, concentrated in Western Flanders, has already warned that Brexit will result in lost income. The industry manufactures home textiles, carpets and mattresses and “one out of every three metres goes to the United Kingdom, which is our largest export market,” notes Fa Quix, director general of the Fedustria federation, which represents Belgium’s textile, wood and furniture industries.
Pascale Delcomminette warns against any panic. « Britain’s exit will take time, » she says. “I am convinced that the country will remain a global engine and that trade ties will continue. After all, 45% of Britain’s exports go to the European market while 55% of its imports come from the EU.”