Astrid Geeraerts, Head of Investment at Flanders Investment & Trade gives her top tips and insight into how businesses can trade successfully post-Brexit:
As Britain left the European Union on 31 January 2020, ending the transition period, British businesses were about to experience an extraordinary year of challenging trading conditions.
Navigating the complex new post-Brexit customs and export rules coincided with having to endure the impact of the pandemic on trading, supply chains and the global economy. 2020 was therefore a demanding year for businesses across nearly all sectors.
During this time, it’s been our role at Flanders Investment & Trade to maintain the strong heritage of successful trade between the UK and Flanders by providing free advice and support for UK businesses who trade in Flanders, whether it’s exporting to the region or setting up a new base in Flanders. While UK exports to Flanders, and Europe, initially dipped in early 2020, exports from they had recovered to pre-pandemic and pre-Brexit levels of a trade by the end of 2021.
Flanders has historically been an important trade partner with the UK, and as post-Brexit export rules and regulations came into effect, the region has been able to offer solutions and opportunities for more British businesses, through tools such as the Brexit impact scan, which provided traders with a calculation of customs duties and additional costs for customs declarations, as well as an interactive report with possible Brexit strategies. The new rules are the same across the EU. However, traders have found that each country interprets them slightly differently. A single point of entry has become the preferred option for many UK exporters and Flanders has been supporting a rapidly increasing number of UK businesses as they use Flanders as their preferred single gateway.
Flanders has geographical advantages. Located in North Belgium, it is a powerhouse for international trade. Our seaports of Antwerp-Bruges, Ghent and Ostend and our three international airports connect Flanders with the UK and transport hubs all around the world, including over 650 European distribution centres. Our transport network is also highly connected with the rest of Europe.
For UK businesses looking to expand their business through innovation and development, Flanders also offers a wealth of opportunities. Flanders was ranked third in Europe for innovative SMEs collaborating with others in the 2022 European Innovation Scoreboard.
Furthermore, the Flanders government offers Research and Development (R&D) tax incentives and an R&D-friendly tax system that allows businesses to recover part of their investments in innovation. Businesses in industries as diverse as food production to health tech to sustainable energy are flourishing in Flanders’ innovation-friendly economy.
As an official government organisation and a team of international experts in trade and commerce, our team of investment advisors has been introducing UK-based firms to potential partners and suppliers as they explore establishing a trade base in Flanders, including banks, regulators, real estate agents and other businesses. We also provide legal advice and support for setting up a business in Flanders.
Last year (2021), we assisted the highest number of investment projects ever from the UK in a single year. The UK now takes second place in the list of top foreign investors in Flanders, and almost two-thirds of all British investments in Flanders are linked to Brexit.
We remain committed to growing Flanders’ trade relationship with British businesses even further as we start to look ahead to 2023.