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In the chemicals, plastics and life sciences sector in Belgium, 1,896 new jobs were created last year. It is the strongest growth in the last twenty years. The labour market in this sector increased by 9,222 extra jobs in the past eight years. But the war in Ukraine threatens to take its toll.
Editorial office / Brussels

This is shown by the annual economic figures of the sector federation essenscia. A total of 97,420 people are now employed in the Belgian chemical and life sciences sector, the largest level since 2001. The strong growth contrasts sharply with the loss of jobs in Belgian industry as a whole (-6%, a loss of almost 30,000 jobs). After a sharp corona blow in 2020, sales improved last year with an increase of 22% to almost €74 billion.

Thanks to the global export of corona vaccines, sector exports rose by 33%. Within the EU, Belgium has even become the second most important exporting country for chemicals, plastics and pharmaceuticals, following Germany. Chemistry and life sciences also account for 40% of all Belgian patent applications; 982 were filed with the European Patent Office in 2021.

Doom scenario

Despite the positive sounds, according to essenscia, alarm bells are ringing because of the Ukraine crisis. Exploding energy prices, exorbitantly expensive raw materials, escalating transport costs and sky-high inflation are weighing particularly heavily on competitiveness. Doom scenarios in which planned investments or recruitment are postponed and industrial production is temporarily reduced are no longer unthinkable. At the same time, companies must continue to innovate and invest in the race towards climate neutrality.

Hans Casier, chairman of essenscia: “This is the third crisis in a row, after brexit and corona. This time it is an existential energy crisis that seriously weakens the international competitive position of the sector, both in relation to neighbouring countries and to other continents.” The reasons for this are the high gas prices, the high level of inflation and the plummeting consumer confidence. “Growing uncertainty is causing great anxiety.”

According to Yves Verschueren, managing director of essenscia, it is necessary to give the energy supply the highest political priority, to maintain the wage standard law and to do everything possible to preserve the competitiveness of the industry. “We must never forget that chemistry and life sciences are at the beginning of crucial value chains: advanced plastics for electric cars, insulation materials or renewable energy, fertilisers for food production, basic molecules for many medicines. This calls for a bold economic policy that fully supports the industry in our country.”

The economic key figures can be found on the essenscia website.

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