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Flanders’ exports decrease by 7.5% in March

Brussels, 15 June 2020 – Due to the COVID-19 crisis, Flanders’ foreign trade activity has dropped sharply, according to an analysis by Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) based on figures released today by the National Bank of Belgium (NBB). Flanders’ exports decreased by 7.5% in March 2020 compared to the same period last year, while the region’s imports fell by 11.5%: downward figures that haven’t occurred since the crisis years 2008 and 2009. The government of Flanders under the leadership of Minister-President Jan Jambon allocated EUR 3 million to FIT for additional support measures for Flanders-based exporters. Minister-President Jan Jambon has just announced this, together with Flanders’ minister of Economy Hilde Crevits, during a press conference.

Flanders exported for a total amount of EUR 26.6 billion in March 2020, which is 7.5% less than in March last year. It has been over a decade – during the crisis years 2008 and 2009 – since such a drop was recorded in just one month: in March 2008, there was a 7.8% decrease, although the figures for March 2009 – with a drop of 14.7% – were much worse. In terms of imports, Flanders recorded a total amount of EUR 24.53 billion in March 2020, which represents a decrease of 11.5% compared to March 2019 and is also in line with the figures from crisis years 2008 and 2019.

The weak March figures also influenced the export figures for the entire first quarter of 2020, which are 1.9% lower than in the same period in 2019. January and February weren’t great either, with a slow 2% export growth in January and near-zero growth in February. Imports in the first quarter of 2020 were down 5.5% compared to the first quarter last year.

Flanders ranks somewhere in the middle across Europe

Compared to neighboring countries, Flanders’ March 2020 export figures rank somewhere in the middle. Based on figures from the national statistical services, we observe the following trends. The Netherlands saw its exports fall a little less sharply, with a drop of almost 5%. Germany recorded an export loss of 8%. In France, the decline was much more pronounced: almost 19%. In Italy, exports fell greatly as well in March (-13.5%). This is a sharper decline than in Spain (-6%), even though both countries launched very strict lockdown measures at an early stage.

Declining export destinations

More than half of Flanders’ export loss in March 2020 can be linked to four of the region’s main export markets: the Netherlands, France, Italy and the UK (which together account for a decrease of EUR 3 billion compared to the same period last year). It is no coincidence that these markets were hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis at an early stage. To highlight a few figures on our European export destinations: Flanders’ export volume to the Netherlands fell by 14.5% in March, while exports to France dropped by almost 14%. Meanwhile, the region’s exports to the UK decreased by more than 10%, and its exports to Italy fell by no less than 23%. Flanders’ exports to Spain, on the other hand, decreased by 5.5%, while a decline of 2.5% was recorded for Poland.  

In general, Flanders’ exports to Asia also dropped (-15%), including a 5% decline in exports to China. However, the March 2020 figures are especially negative when it comes to Flanders’ exports to the Middle East (-28.2%). Some nuance is, however, in order: after all, this remarkable decline is mainly the consequence of Flanders’ export figures for two countries: the UAE (-31%) and Israel (-33%).

Growing export destinations

In some markets, Flanders’ exports grew in March 2020 compared to the same period last year. These include Germany (+1.4%), the US (+5%) and Sweden (almost +1%). Compared to March 2019, Flanders even exported 32% more to Russia, 83% more to Ireland and 25% more to Canada. An explanation for these – rather atypical – growth figures is difficult to provide. However, it is notable that export growth for certain markets was almost entirely driven by the export of pharmaceutical products.

Finally, Flanders’ exports to Africa also grew modestly (+1.0%).

April 2020 outlook

For April, the National Bank of Belgium predicts a decrease of Belgian exports of 24,0% compared to the same month last year.

Additional support measures for international entrepreneurs

On Friday 5 June 2020, the government of Flanders’ approved FIT's Corona Exit plan and gave the green light for the launch of additional support measures for Flanders-based exporters. These include a Corona subsidy package, a Starter package for internationalization and a ‘ReBoot your export’ package. Claire Tillekaerts, CEO of Flanders Investment & Trade, just presented these support packages during the press conference.

Find out more about the Corona Exit plan, the support packages and FIT’s adapted services. 


As expected, international trade is being hit by the COVID-19 crisis. An export region like Flanders is particularly sensitive to these kinds of shocks. That’s why the government of Flanders is taking the necessary measures to back companies and start-ups that focus on export activities with additional support. I am confident that we will get through this crisis together.”

Flanders’ minister-president Jan Jambon

FIT assists Flanders-based exporters and start-ups with international ambitions by means of additional support measures and adapted services. The message is clear: Flanders accelerates even in times of COVID-19, and FIT, together with our partner organizations, stands ready to offer tailored support in this respect.”

Claire Tillekaerts, CEO of FIT

Press contact

Flanders Investment & Trade:

Tine Van Valckenborg
M. +32 499 24 60 93

Spokesperson minister-president Jan Jambon:

Olivier Van Raemdonck
M. +32 470 99 91 01

15 June 2020