The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is negatively impacting the global economy. In Belgium, many of our member companies have adapted to a changing world and taken measures to remain operational and protect the health of their employees. As further support from the Belgian authorities will be needed to help them fully recover from this crisis, AmCham Belgium is more than ever committed to listening to our members’ concerns and addressing them with the Federal and Regional Governments.
The consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak on the Belgian economy cannot be underestimated. As the authorities were forced to make tough decisions to stop the spread of the virus, many companies had to shut down or quickly adapt to remain (in some cases partly) operational. Some companies were eligible to receive financial support from the authorities, and the scope of temporary unemployment benefits was broadened to help those in need, two very helpful government measures.
On April 3, AmCham Belgium released the results of our COVID-19 flash survey developed in partnership with Kearney. The goal was to assess the short-term impact of the crisis on our member companies and learn more about how they see the future. Overall, it showed that many of the companies had emergency plans in place, which helped them remain operational. Working from home has become the new normal, but only few employers considered it to be a challenge, and most expected the current challenging times to accelerate the adoption of digital tools in their companies.
While the economic consequences of the crisis vary from one sector to the other, some companies are expecting a significant negative impact in terms of employment, revenue and investment. Moreover, up to 50% of respondents are expecting cash issues within six months. The results of the survey indicate that the health crisis we are going through will almost certainly turn into an economic crisis.
After gathering feedback from our member companies, AmCham Belgium put forward a high-level policy statement to highlight the most pressing issues companies are facing and to raise awareness among policymakers. We are now entering the first phases of ‘de-confinement’, but as the economy gradually re-opens – with a constant regard to the public health situation – it remains important that the government communicate clearly about how and when companies can get back to business. We appreciate how quickly the administration has adapted to the crisis, and building on this momentum, we encourage the further development of a culture of collaboration between companies and public authorities and the further digitalization of administrative processes.
Free trade and the free movement of people are vital for international companies. We therefore encourage policymakers to re-open borders as soon as public health allows. Companies and trade organizations should be fully involved in the discussions with the authorities on how to address this crisis and speed up the recovery process. Many international companies have been able to build on best practices from colleagues in countries well ahead of Belgium in the corona cycle, and this will certainly offer new insights into the possible road ahead. AmCham Belgium is convinced that international companies are essential to finding solutions to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, and we therefore look forward to working with all stakeholders to support the economic recovery.
Our policy statement was sent to politicians from all parties. Many of them acknowledged receipt of our messages and were grateful for our suggestions. Of course, this was just the start. All our policy Committees are working on topical position papers, focusing on their areas of expertise, to further support our member companies in these challenging times.