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.
Our bank sponsors the Export Lion Awards for the first time
On 23 September, Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) will be hosting the 19th Export Lion Awards, an event that celebrates Flemish companies with outstanding export results. BNP Paribas Fortis is happy to support this initiative.
In 2005, the Flemish government established the Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) agency to promote international business in Flanders. FIT was the result of a merger of Export Flanders and the Flemish Service for Investment. The organisation aims to promote international entrepreneurship in Flemish companies, particularly SMEs.
FIT has its headquarters in Brussels and has 96 offices worldwide, five of which are based in Flanders. The agency provides information and assistance to Flemish investors and exporters free of charge.
Partnership with BNP Paribas Fortis
This year FIT is organising the 19th Export Lion Awards on Wednesday 23 September, an event that puts Flemish companies with exceptional export results in the spotlight. As the number one import and export bank, BNP Paribas Fortis is pleased to support this event as a sponsor. We are highly committed to our encouragement of Belgian exporting companies, and therefore the economy in general. Our many years of expertise in international trade finance and our global network of experts make us the perfect partner for companies with (future) international operations.
"We are proud that Belgium is one of the top 15 export countries in the world, and we are happy to give our exporters a boost by sponsoring the Export Lion Awards", Frank Haak, Head of Sales Global Trade Solutions at BNP Paribas Fortis, says.
Everything you need to know about the event
- What? Sparkling online award ceremony followed by a virtual networking event
- Where? At 6 locations and live from Ghent
- When? Wednesday 23 September, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
- Entry fee?Free, but advance registration is recommended
Do not miss this inspiring evening!
You will receive an email with a link to the event's live stream a day before the award ceremony.
BNP Paribas Group, first quarter 2020 results
Excellent business drive in the quarter impacted by an unprecedented health crisis
The health crisis has had major repercussions on macroeconomic outlook and produced extreme shocks on the financial markets. After a quarter in line with the 2020 objectives of BNP Paribas, health crisis related developments had several major negative impacts on the first quarter 2020.
Commenting on these results, Chief Executive Officer Jean-Laurent Bonnafé stated:
“In response to the health crisis, the Group’s teams have mobilised around the world to contribute to the functioning of the economy and its financing. Our concerns have been to protect our employees who are fully mobilised to ensure banking services, to quickly implement solutions to support the financing of our corporate, institutional and individual clients, and to launch in all regions where we are present a plan for emergency donations to the hospital sector and organisations committed to assist vulnerable people.
At the end of a quarter supported by an excellent business drive, in line with its 2020 objectives, the results of BNP Paribas for the 1st quarter 2020 were impacted by the harshness of the health crisis. The good resilience of revenues and results despite this shock demonstrates the robustness of the Group’s diversified and integrated model. With all teams at BNP Paribas, whose I want to thank tireless commitment to serving customers and providing support to society, we will continue our efforts to mitigate the impact of the crisis on the economy and prepare for the future.”
Press Release: https://invest.bnpparibas.com/documents/1q20-pr-23455
Test it here: how sustainable is your organisation?
BNP Paribas Fortis' Sustainable Business Competence Centre (SBCC), which helps companies transition to a sustainable business model, has developed a test to help you determine your company's progress in achieving sustainability. You can set to work immediately with the results of this test.
As Belgium's largest bank, BNP Paribas Fortis wants to drive socio-economic development in our country. This development requires companies to transition to a sustainable business model. As this is not particularly straightforward, BNP Paribas Fortis wants to make its expertise available to its customers.
One of the SBCC's initiatives is a brand-new test aimed at corporates, SMEs and institutional customers. The test consists of 15 questions relating to the steps you need to take to become more sustainable: awareness, diagnosis, quick wins, business model and cooperation and innovation. Once you have finished the test, you will receive the results in your mailbox instantly.
The SBCC uses your answers to make practical recommendations for your journey towards more sustainable entrepreneurship. In addition, we have all the resources needed to guide you throughout your transition from start to finish:
- technological expertise in high-tech, ICT, biotech, medtech, clean and green tech, and more
- a network of companies and business associates
- financial products and services that facilitate the transition to a sustainable model
Is your organisation ready for a sustainable future?
BNP Paribas Group, second quarter 2019 results
The business of BNP Paribas was up this quarter in a context where economic growth remained positive in Europe but slowed down, implying expectations of a continued low interest rate environment.
Director and Chief Executive Officer of BNP Paribas, Jean-Laurent Bonnafé:
“BNP Paribas delivered in the first half an increase in net income at 4.4 billion euros. Revenues were up thanks to business growth in the operating divisions. Operating expenses were well contained and benefitted from the transformation plan, generating a positive jaws effect. The common equity Tier 1 ratio rose to 11.9%, illustrating the Group’s solid balance sheet. New digital experiences rolled out for customers are a success and the Group is actively executing its ambitious policy of engagement in society. I would like to thank all the employees of the Group for their dedicated efforts to achieve these good results. ”