Why does economic growth remain slow in our country? Arne Maes, Economic Advisor at BNP Paribas Fortis sheds light on these issues.
Economic growth in Belgium has been slow for decades. Yet Belgium is not alone in this. Almost all industrialised countries have suffered the same fate and the underlying causes are largely the same.
For example, the gradual transition from a manufacturing to a service economy has led to a slowdown in growth in the countries concerned. Technological progress, which allows the manufacturing industry to produce more efficiently, has a much less marked effect on the services sector. This means that an increase in employment in services acts as a brake on overall growth.
What about Belgium?
Labour productivity is growing at a significantly slower rate in Belgium than in neighbouring countries. Since the beginning of the crisis, the extent to which productivity has declined in the Belgian services industry, especially in non-market services, such as education, health and government activities, has been particularly striking. Naturally, another issue is that since the beginning of this century, the wages in our country have risen nearly four times faster than our productivity.
One explanation for Belgium’s poor performance could be the lack of innovative technology companies within our national borders. After all, the relative importance of these rapidly-growing sectors in the Belgian economy has waned in recent years, and with it its contribution to research and development.
Moreover, several trends which, historically, have contributed to economic growth are slowly drawing to a close. So-called global value chains, where multinationals ship their products from continent to continent as part of the production process, have gained in importance. In recent years, increased local specialisation has led to significant efficiency gains. As an economy that is strongly focused on international trade, Belgium has always been one of the pioneers in this respect, but comprehensive task specialisation has now reached a natural ceiling.
In addition, the increase in the educational levels of the Belgian population is slowly approaching its limits. As a result, we cannot expect education to make a positive contribution to growth, either.
The new normal?
Some of the developments discussed above are therefore irreversible, but growth itself is not, by any means. Fortunately, there are some ways in which this stuttering economy can be revived.
We need investment in order to improve our long-term prospects. Companies need legal certainty and transparency. In this respect, the forthcoming review of the Belgian Dock Work Regulation Act and the Belgian Excess Profit Rulings tax scheme inspire little confidence.
On top of that, public investment has also fallen sharply in recent years, often under the guise of much-needed consolidation of finances. However, further erosion of the existing infrastructure must be stopped. Even in difficult budgetary times, projects with high added value pay dividends, especially at a time when interest rates remain historically low.
In addition, Antwerp and Brussels are both in the top five cities for traffic congestion. A redesigning of the existing network and financial incentives affecting individual car usage are absolute musts.
Despite some positive reports, the employment rate – at 67% – remains significantly lower than that in our neighbouring countries. Earlier this year, the IMF put its finger on the sore spot: in the fragmented Belgian job market, some population groups (older people, immigrants) are still finding it extremely difficult to carve out a space. For its part, in its recent country-specific recommendations the European Commission has yet again denounced Belgium's relatively inflexible wage setting. This means that further reforms are urgently needed.
One thing is clear: the new normal is bringing with it other challenges. However, we will be able to kick-start higher growth if we focus on investments that pay for themselves and structural reforms.
Do companies really want a more sustainable world?
Yes, the success of our Sustainable Business Ateliers is good proof of that. Most companies are aware of their social responsibility, but some are in need of information. To help them on their way, BNP Paribas Fortis organises regular regional Sustainable Business Workshops. Last year, our bank organised two pilot sessions in Liège and Limburg and more recently it was the turn of Namur, Gits (in West Flanders) and Ghent. Other Belgian cities will be announced soon.
During the Sustainable Business Workshops the invited clients are inspired by the experts from our Sustainable Business Competence Centre, and by other clients who speak about the actions they have already taken with their business.
After the presentations, participants are divided into groups and share experiences led by a moderator.
How do clients rate them?
Feedback from the participants revealed that the focus on cooperation and networking opportunities are the greatest advantages of the Workshops. Those attending always include representatives of small, medium-sized and large businesses from a variety of sectors - a diversity which participants find highly enriching. After all, no single company can overcome all of the present challenges on its own. Companies will not only have to cooperate with one another, but also with the government, universities, startups, etc. to make progress.
According to the participants, BNP Paribas Fortis is also the only financial service provider that goes great lengths to support companies in the area of sustainable business, by analysing at which stage of the sustainable business path the companies are and by guiding them to use sustainability as an opportunity for their activities.
Do you want to participate in one of our Sustainable Business Workshops? Please contact your Relationship Manager for the practical details.
Not a client yet? And do you want to know more about the guidance we offer and the benefits of sustainability for your company? Discover what our Sustainable Business Competence Centre can do for you.
Solvay links the cost of credit to a reduction in greenhouse gases
Solvay has agreed new terms in an existing €2 billion revolving credit facility, linking the cost of credit to a reduction in greenhouse gases. Solvay concluded this positive incentive agreement with its syndicate of nine banks. BNP Paribas Fortis is acting as Sustainability Coordinator and agent bank to Solvay’s long-term banking partners.
Solvay announced in September 2018 a commitment to cut greenhouse gases from its own operations by 1 million tonnes by 2025 relative to 2017 levels. The Group intends to achieve this reduction by further improving energy efficiency, energy mix and by investing in clean technologies. “We seek to integrate sustainability into all key aspects of our business, including financing. Associating Solvay's ambitious greenhouse gas emissions target to the cost of credit is a logical step. The successful teaming up with our banks shows that the way towards more sustainability is a collective effort," said Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, CEO of Solvay.
“I am proud that Solvay has mandated BNP Paribas Fortis to introduce a Positive Incentive Loan mechanism that supports Solvay’s ambitions in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This innovative solution is a clear example of how we and the syndicated banks we represent aim to serve our clients in terms of value creation. Collaboration between banks and clients is key in driving the economy forward to a more sustainable future,” said Max Jadot, CEO of BNP Paribas Fortis.
BNP Paribas Fortis : 2018 annual results
CEO Max Jadot: “In spite of the lower pace of economic growth, low interest rates and tensions in international trade, our net profits of 1.9 billion in 2018 held up well. We continued to realise our mission to support the economy in a sustainable way by enabling our clients’ projects and safeguarding and developing their assets. (…) In a highly competitive and fast-changing environment, we are building the bank for the world of tomorrow. I would like to thank our customers for their trust and our colleagues for their engagement and effort in achieving our goals.”