War in Ukraine: Answers to frequently asked questions
Belgian trade relations with Ukraine and Russia
Last year,1396 Belgian firms exported goods to Ukraine. This export volume represented a total amount of € 566 million. Since Russia annexed the Crimea, exports to the country have fallen. 690 companies established in Belgium import goods from Ukraine. The number is rising. Import turnover tends to vary, reaching € 525 million in 2021.
In 2021, some 1556 Belgian companies exported goods to Russia. And 1023 companies imported Russian goods into our country. The total export volume was worth around €3.4 billion in 2021 and the import volume €6.9 billion. As far as exports are concerned, it is mainly chemical and pharmaceutical products involved. Imported goods are predominantly metals, steel, minerals (and derivative) petroleum (products). Russia is only a small trading partner for Belgium, accounting for around 0.9 % of all our exports and 1.8% of our imports. According to the Federal Public Service Economy, in 2019, around 3 % of all the gas used in Belgium came from Russia.
Direct investment with these two countries is limited. Investment in our country by companies from Ukraine or Russia is virtually non-existent. In 2020, direct investment by Belgian companies in Ukraine came to only €56 million. Investment in Russia accounted for around €1.5 billion. By way of comparison, direct investment in Russia amounts to barely 1.5 % of all funds invested directly by Belgian firms.
What economic consequences will the war have for the euro area and the inflation rate?
The European Central Bank and the national central banks in the Eurosystem will do all they can to safeguard financial stability and price stability.
As the situation is rapidly changing, it is very difficult to make an accurate and reliable long-term estimate for the entire euro area. The ECB’s Governing Council has carried out an in-depth impact assessment in preparation for the monetary policy meeting on 10 March. The war has generated a lot of uncertainty: energy prices are rising sharply, trade relations have been impacted and consumer confidence could suffer.
The ECB is nevertheless expecting the euro area economy to continue to show robust growth, albeit at a slightly slower pace. This growth is now expected to reach 3.7 % in 2022 and 2.8 % in 2023. Inflation will remain high owing to the rapid rise in energy prices, tensions on the labour market, supply constraints and rising commodity prices. Inflation in the euro area is currently forecasted to reach 5.1 % in 2022 and drop to 2.1 % in 2023, close to the ECB’s inflation target of 2 %.
What economic fallout is the war likely to have on our country?
The potential direct impact is rather small, in view of the fact that both Ukraine and Russia are only small trade partners. For most Belgian companies active on these markets, trade accounts for quite a low percentage of their total sales. However, there is a significant indirect impact through, for example, the explosion of energy prices, although it remains to be seen how long prices will stay at this level.
In response to the war in Ukraine, the National Bank has revised its economic outlook. The Bank is now assuming a temporary slowdown in growth in 2022. According to new calculations, the Belgian economy will grow by 2.4 % this year. On account of the war in Ukraine, our experts have raised the inflation forecast to 7.4 %. Wage costs in the private sector could even increase by 10 % due to the impact of the automatic wage indexation. This could temporarily affect the competitiveness of our companies, as wage adjustments in neighbouring countries take place more slowly.
However, even the current forecasts do not point to a long-term wage-price spiral and indicate that inflationary pressure will ease in the next two years. The budget deficit is projected to reach 4.4 % of GDP in 2022, but will increase somewhat further by 2024.
The government has set up an expert group “Purchasing Power and Competitiveness” tasked with providing the government with recommendations and avenues for concrete measures to deal with inflation and the economic challenges associated with the war in Ukraine. On Thursday, 28 April, the first meeting of the expert group was held under the chairmanship of the NBB governor and in the presence of the Prime Minister.
At regular intervals, a dashboard on the “Economic Impact of the War in Ukraine” will be published, containing a selection of macroeconomic and sectoral analyses and indicators drawn up by the teams of the National Bank of Belgium, the Federal Planning Bureau and FPS Economy, SMEs, Self-Employed and Energy.
What sanctions have been taken against Russia?
The ECB is implementing the sanctions package that was approved by the European Commission. The General Administration of the Treasury, authorised to carry out the administration and compliance inspection for financial sanctions in Belgium, has informed Belgian banks directly about the financial sanctions that have been taken against Russia and which must be respected.
What fallout can be expected from these sanctions for Belgian companies or citizens?
Obviously, everyone is supposed to strictly respect the sanctions imposed by law. Most notably, that can mean that no financial transactions may be made with sanctioned entities, banks or people.
Does the National Bank monitor compliance with sanctions by the Belgian financial sector?
The National Bank is the supervisory authority for the financial sector (banks, insurance companies, payment service providers, financial market infrastructures, etc.) in Belgium. In this capacity, it has to check whether the institutions falling under its remit are respecting their legal obligations. In other words, it makes sure they are complying with the rules. As the sanctions have been set via EU legislation, monitoring their respect falls partly under the National Bank’s supervisory function. The National Bank has already informed the banks of their obligation to strictly respect the sanctions.
Over the last few days, announcements have been made that Russian banks will be partially shut out of SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication). SWIFT was licensed by the National Bank of Belgium back in 1997 and is established in Belgium. With its standardised messaging service, SWIFT is a critical service provider to the global financial system (banks, market infrastructures, brokers, investment managers, etc.). SWIFT is active in more than 200 countries and its communication technology connects 11 000 customers. In 2020, an average 37.7 million messages concerning financial transactions were sent through SWIFT. SWIFT users are effectively owners of the company.
The National Bank is the lead supervisory authority for SWIFT activities, but in view of the global scale of SWIFT’s business, it is assisted in this role by the central banks of the G10 nations plus 15 other central banks with which supervision is coordinated. For more information: https://www.nbb.be/doc/ts/publications/fmi-and-paymentservices/latest/fmi_swift.pdf
Given the strict professional secrecy that goes with the role of a supervisory authority, we cannot provide any further information about the measures regarding SWIFT and Russia at the moment.
How big is the Belgian financial sector’s exposure to Russia?
The exposure of the financial sector to Russia is fairly limited and the insurance companies have almost none at all. As far as the banks are concerned, the extent of exposure varies from bank to bank. In asset terms, it varies from a few hundred thousand to a few hundred million euros. On the liabilities side, it ranges from nothing at all to a few billion euros but remains limited for each bank to a maximum 1.5% of the balance sheet total.