US firm Caterpillar to slash 1,400 jobs in Belgium: company

US heavy machinery firm Caterpillar announced plans Thursday to slash 1,400 jobs at its Gosselies site in Belgium, one of Caterpillar's largest facilities in Europe but now hit by slow sales and high costs.

"The proposed measures aim to give the Gosselies site a chance to exist in the future by positioning it as the indispensable source of production for machinery for Europe," Caterpillar Belgium CEO Nicolas Polutnik said in a statement.

"These measures though painful are nonetheless indispensable to regain competitiveness," he added.

The plant, which employs 3,700 workers and was opened in 1965, is located on the outskirts of Charleroi in southern Belgium, a region that was once a thriving industrial belt.

But a company statement stressed that times had changed over the years for the firm, whose production mainly targets the European market "where the prospects for growth are limited and the economic slowdown ... is pressuring the industry".

Caterpillar too faced new competitors but "more fundamentally" the costs were simply too high at the plant, it said. "At the moment it would be cheaper to import machines to Europe from other group sites than to produce them at Gosselies."

The plant notably produces hydraulic excavators and loaders while also manufacturing and assembling engines and parts components, including drives, gears, axles and cylinders.

It is one of the biggest employers in Wallonia, a southern French-speaking region faced by high unemployment -- at over 25 percent in the Charleroi area -- and a string of bad news for workers.

In recent months, US automaker Ford announced it would close its Genk plant in 2014, likely to cause the direct and indirect loss of 10,000 jobs, and ArcelorMittal said it will shut down part of its steel production in Liege, meaning a loss of 1,300 jobs.