No apocalypse, but companies continue to struggle with Brexit

During the first major trade mission since corona and Brexit, a procession of Belgian entrepreneurs and politicians visited London this week. Although the downfall and gloom of lively trade with Britain mainly translates into extra rules, concerns about economic storms hang on.

Call it ‘the new situation’, ‘the EU exit’ or ‘the B-word’, but above all avoid the dirty term ‘Brexit’. That’s what four days teaches in the wake of the Belgian trade jamboree in the Greater London Area. From Sunday to Thursday, a delegation of more than 200 companies and federal and regional government representatives came in Princess Astrid’s footsteps to tighten Belgian-British trade relations.

The essence

  • This week, 214 companies and politicians followed in Princess Astrid’s footsteps on a trade mission to the British capital London, the first since Brexit and the pandemic.
  • The impact of Brexit on corporate functioning is limited to more administration.
  • More than before Brexit, companies are on guard against the growing fear of recession with high inflation and declining consumption.

The full agenda – a British delegation leader compared the program booklet with the ‘Belgian telephone directory’ – scheduled seminars, briefings and official affairs. For companies from a wide range of sectors – from food to IT, financial services, pharmaceuticals and mechanical engineering – it was the opportunity to look for trading opportunities in what is still the fifth largest economy in the world and the fourth most important Flemish export partner. . is.

The mission ended Thursday with the foundation stone for the energy from waste facilities that Indaver – the environmental technology company owned by Fernand Huts – is building in London for more than half a billion euros. ‘It’s the biggest investment we’ve ever made,’ says Indaver CEO Paul De Bruycker. ‘We are not particularly worried about Brexit, finding enough suitable workers is a major stumbling block today.’

No business as usual

It is a feeling that is widely shared by the business leaders present. Contrary to what the apocalyptic messages predicted when Brexit was ratified early last year, the worst catastrophe has not happened. “You can certainly not say it’s business as usual,” said Claire Tillekaerts, chief executive of Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT), which is working on its third-to-last mission. “But the damage is less for now. Pending a final settlement, she confines herself to a lot of extra bureaucracy. ‘

That the rules on the British side sometimes change does not make it any easier.

Joy Vervoort

The Belgian chocolate group

Flemish companies were much better prepared for this extra administration than the British government. “Larger companies accustomed to trading with third countries could entrust someone in the UK with all Brexit duties. Therefore, the extra paperwork was not insurmountable,” says Tillekaerts. which are highly dependent on British exports. ‘ Flanders received a € 233 million Brexit pool from Europe to further support companies in this regard.

More than a single shock, Brexit is a slow-moving process whose first phase is still in full swing. ‘Deviations from EU law are introduced only gradually’, says sales manager Joy Vervoort from The Belgian Chocolate Group, the company across brands such as Neuhaus and Jeff de Bruges. “From October, pre-packaged food will have a UK address, which means we will have to adapt our packaging. The fact that the rules on the British side sometimes change does not make it any easier ‘.

fear of recession

Although Flemish exports to the UK fell by 2.6 per cent last year, possibly another outgrowth of the pandemic, more than the table the coming economic storm byens snak† Galloping inflation and energy costs are gradually keeping consumers on their budget.

The Brexit damage is not that bad at the moment, but it is not business as usual.

Claire Tillekaerts

Flanders Investment & Trade

‘We are actually noticing more caution,’ says Thierry Vandererfven, CEO of the Kortrijk producer of jams, ketchup and fruit vinegar Belberry Preserves. The company produces 300 tons annually and exports to 60 countries. “Wholesalers and retailers are the first to see this happen. We should not panic yet, but there is a brake on it.”

Are Brexit worries slowly giving way to recession fears? ‘Obviously we want to bleed’, sums up an investment banker. ‘Companies may still fall back on their reserves, but their margins are gradually melting. At the end of this year and certainly in 2023, that effect will be even more pronounced. Certainly in those sectors with less essential commodities, such as clothes.’

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