Flanders Investment & Trade, the official government body for the Flanders region, has published its full-year trade figures for 2021, which reveal that UK exports to Flanders are showing signs of recovery from their post-Brexit decline but some sectors continue to struggle.
While UK exports to Flanders initially slumped by 15.8% in 2020 following the UK’s formal departure from the EU, UK exports to the region increased by a significant 18% in 2021 to a total value of €14,398,848,000. However, the outlook for 2022 looks more uncertain as UK businesses navigate new and far-reaching post-Brexit measures and global geo-political uncertainty.
Flanders, the northern region of Belgium, has since established itself as an important gateway to the European single market for UK businesses following Brexit in January 2020. Many UK sectors, including precious stones and metals and jewelry (+169%) and plastics and plastic items (+70.96%) have seen exports to Flanders grow during 2021. In the food and drink sector, while meat and fish have seen a decline in exports, milk and dairy products have seen a 20% increase.
In January 2021, Flanders announced record levels of investment from UK companies in the region. There has been a 63.33% increase in British companies investing in Flanders in 2021 vs 2020, the fourth consecutive annual increase. Many UK businesses have chosen to set up a base in the region as a strategic single-entry point to export to other EU countries, due to Flanders’ excellent transport connections and location in the heart of Europe’s commercial and industrial centres.
Despite the overall improvement in exports to Flanders in 2021, some sectors of the UK economy have continued to see a decline in exports to Flanders, including the automotive sector (-11%) and the textiles sector, with clothing and accessories down 41.3%. However, these sectors have also been impacted by the pandemic and other global manufacturing trends.
Flanders exports to the UK dip by just 2.6%; Flanders sees record total global exports
One year on from Brexit and total Flemish exports to the UK fell by just 2.59% compared to 2020, confirming Flanders status as a key trade partner for the UK. After an initial drop in the first quarter (-21.76%) following the stockpiling seen in late 2020, exports increased by a dramatic 37.7% in the second quarter, before dipping below zero in the third (-4.5%) and the fourth quarters of 2021 (-6.4%).
Companies in Flanders exported €380.5 billion worth of goods globally in 2021, an increase of €50 billion (27.6%) on the previous high of €329 billion in 2018. Flanders also outperformed the average for global EU exports (+18.93%) in 2021, showcasing the international trade opportunities Flanders presents as a trading partner for UK businesses.
Astrid Geeraerts, Head of Investment at Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) commented; “While Brexit immediately disrupted business on both sides of the Channel in 2020, British entrepreneurship has won out and exports to Flanders are recovering.
“FIT has been actively supporting many UK businesses, with our partners in both Flanders and the UK, to help businesses navigate the many challenges that Brexit has presented to exporters to the EU over the past two years. We’re proud that so many UK businesses are successfully exporting to customers in Flanders and Europe following Brexit.”
Claire Tillekaerts, CEO of Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT), said: “Flanders is one of the most open economies in the world. International business is therefore the lifeblood of our region. By supporting UK businesses in entering the EU via Flanders, we are not only supporting the economy, job creation and prosperity in Flanders, but also play an important role in connecting UK businesses with expansion opportunities in the EU and beyond. The geopolitical situation and world trade have become more turbulent in recent months. The OECD is already forecasting that global economic growth this year will be a full percent lower than estimated before the conflict. Global inflation – which has been at an all-time high since early 2022 – is also expected to rise by a further 2.5%. Together with our partner organisations in the UK and in Flanders, FIT is helping to guide companies through this period of uncertainty and instability.”