They were able to report that the UK was the destination for just eight per cent of exports in 2011, down from a high of 17 per cent. But this year exports to the UK are up by almost 50 per cent on last year. The Belgians explain this with a throwaway line about the exchange rate. It's easy to put this interest in the figures down to the fact that Belgium is a net exporter of plants. Perhaps that gives them more reason to collect information and export figures are relatively easy to derive.
But the Belgians don't only record import and export figures. They have figures for home production and home consumption. No doubt they have to make assumptions at points and no doubt the figures produced are not 100 per cent accurate, but that's not the point. Once data has been collected in the same way for a few years, it reveals meaningful trends. The Belgians, with an eye to export, make use of those figures.
What about us? As a net importer of stock, should we be interested? I certainly think so. I've never understood why, when export is seen as an economic Holy Grail, import substitution is not looked at in the same way. The Belgians have information on their export figure and they would put up a fight if they felt it was threatened with collapse.
Likewise, they would fully embrace any opportunity to increase that figure. Shouldn't we monitor production, imports and exports, keep an eye out for factors that make imports easier and fight to create import substitution wherever we can?
Tim Edwards is chairman of Boningale Nurseries.