US largest investor in the Netherlands

Photo description: New York’s financial centre is part of the city skyline.

Foreign direct investment and multinational corporations

Authors: Loe Franssen, Marjolijn Jaarsma

H7 1 Top investment countries = 10 bn Germany Luxembourg €312 bn €229 bn United States United Kingdom Switzerland €805 bn €552 bn €439 bn Inward and outward FDI, position in 2018 Top investors in the Netherlands United States Luxembourg United Kingdom €621 bn €498 bn Switzerland Ireland €272 bn €261 bn €422 bn = 10 bn

So far, the focus of this publication has been placed on the role of the Netherlands in the global exchange of goods and services, and the importance of such trade to the country. Naturally, international business involves more than just trade; other business activities include foreign direct investment (FDI), for instance in new subsidiaries abroad. In this chapter, we take a look at the Netherlands’ inward and outward bilateral investments. What are the main destinations of Dutch outward investments, and which countries are responsible for the largest inward investments? How have these investment flows developed in recent years? Which industries stand out where foreign direct investment (FDI) is concerned? And as for large multinational corporations (i.e. the enterprises responsible for the investment flows), how large is their share in international trade and in business employment? These are the questions discussed in this chapter.

7.1Key findings

Although the Netherlands is often described as a trading nation, perhaps the term ‘investment nation’ is equally appropriate. For years on end, the Netherlands has belonged to the world’s top in terms of the value of inward and outward FDI (UNCTAD, 2018). The Netherlands’ position as an investment country is due in part to the favourable investment climate, in turn partly made possible by the excellent physical and digital infrastructure, the highly educated workforce, the high labour market efficiency and investments in innovation and technologies (WEF, 2018; Forbes, 2018). Every year, approximately 200 billion euros are spent in new bilateral investments, resulting in total inward and outward investment flows worth 4 and 5 trillion (or thousand billion) euros, respectively. Foreign direct investment (FDI) takes place when a company establishes a subsidiary abroad, for example (a so-called greenfield FDI), or takes over a local company (brownfield FDI). Such investments are carried out by multinational corporations. For several decades now, CBS has observed developments in the ultimate control of foreign multinationals operating in the Netherlands, involving either Dutch subsidaries or equity participations in associated Dutch companies.

Direct investments consist of share capital, participating interests in group companies abroad and credit lending. Such investments could be aimed at gaining control in a foreign enterprise, for example. These financial flows are being observed by the national bank of the Netherlands (DNB), and as such they are the financial counterpart of real CBS statistics on multinationals. This chapter highlights both DNB’s macro-financial figures and the multinational activity around these investments.

The United States is our main investment partner. Despite a decline in 2018, they are still holding 621 billion euros in investments here, while the Netherlands holds approximately 805 billion euros in investments in the US. Foreign multinational subsidiaries which operate within Dutch national borders are mainly controlled by a US parent. In 2016, this applied to 2,820 multinationals. Another country setting itself apart in that respect is the United Kingdom. The UK is one of the few countries expanding its investments in the Netherlands last year. In 2018, the UK was even the largest foreign investor in the Netherlands. This expansion in British investments started at the time of the Brexit referendum in 2016 and is possibly an indication of business activity being relocated from the UK to the Netherlands.

In 2016, altogether 23,145 – foreign and Dutch – multinationals were active in the Netherlands, accounting for 2 percent of the Dutch business economy. With over 2.1 million employed persons, these multinationals represented 38 percent of total employment in the business economy. In addition, they represent 80 to 90 percent of the international trade in goods and services and therefore play a relatively important role in the Dutch economy. Between 2010 and 2016, the share of multinationals under Dutch control declined from 56 to 43 percent. On the other hand, the share of employees working for a Dutch multinational has increased steadily.

2.1 million persons employed by multinationals in the Netherlands Buitenvorm Binnenvorm

Dutch multinationals also act as foreign investors abroad. Especially in Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, Dutch multinationals have a large number of subsidiaries. An increase is observed during the survey period in both staff numbers and the number of Dutch-controlled companies in these countries (except for the UK).

7.2Macro-level view of investment flows

Every year, around 200 billion euros in inward and outward FDI

The Dutch central bank (DNB) records and publishes macro-level figures on the bilateral investments of the Netherlands. These indicate substantial flows of investment coming into and going out of the Netherlands over the past eight years. The annual total amount of investments made was close to 200 billion euros during this period. As a result, the Netherlands’ international investment position rose steadily to 5 trillion (5,000 billion) euros in outward investments and 4 trillion euros in inward investments in 2017, see figure 7.2.1. This has placed the Netherlands at the world top for years. In 2017, for instance, the Netherlands was the second largest foreign investor in the world. As for inward investments, the Netherlands finds itself in fourth place (CBS, 2019).

The investment position showed a remarkable drop in 2018, indicating a divestment. This was mainly related to the closure of a particular Special Purpose Entity (SPE) (DNB, 2019). The role of such SPEs will be discussed in more detail later on in this chapter.

United States still largest investment partner

The Netherlands’ most important investment partners are the United Statesnoot1, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom. As for the Netherlands’ outward investments, recently the United States and Switzerland have gained in importance whereas Dutch investments in Luxembourg have declined. Foreign (inward) investments in the Netherlands from the United States showed a significant decline in 2018. Several media sources reported recently that the Netherlands is increasingly being avoided by American multinationals. The decline in US investments might be explained by a combined set of factors: lowering of the profit tax in de US (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 2017), several proposed measures to restrict letterbox firm investments in the Netherlands and tightening of tax rules for expats (CBS, 2019; Driessen, 2018; NOS, 2018; Van Mersbergen, 2018).

As for inward investments, countries include the relatively minor economies of Luxembourg, Ireland, Bermuda, Switzerland, Belgium and Curaçao. This is related to the investments that take place via Special Purpose Entities (SPEs). SPEs are subsidiaries of foreign enterprises which are established in the Netherlands to act as cross-border financial intermediaries between various composite entities of the group in which they operate. They carry out huge income and asset transactions which bear no comparison to their productive activities in the Netherlands.

Predominantly investments in banking and insurance

The important role of SPEs is reflected in the distribution of inward investments among the various (receiving) industries, see Figure 7.2.3. The share of foreign investment in Dutch banking and insurance was 80 percent of total inward investments, although this share fell slightly as of 2011, when it was still 84 percent. State Secretary for Finance Menno Snel wants to get rid of the Netherlands’ image as tax haven for large multinationals. This has prompted him to propose several policy changes intended to make the Netherlands less attractive for such activities (CBS, 2018a).

Not taking into account that particular investment flow, we can see that most inward investments are in the Dutch mining and quarrying and petroleum and chemical industries, followed by the food, beverages and tobacco industry. These combined investment flows (not including the amounts invested in banking and insurance) have risen sharply over the years: from 483 billion euros in 2011 to 915 billion euros in 2018.

A surprising climber on the list of countries with inward investments since 2016 has been the United Kingdom. In 2018, the UK was even the largest foreign investor in the Netherlands. This is even more remarkable given the decline in bilateral investments between the United Kingdom and the entire European Union as of June 2016, the month of the Brexit referendum (DNBulletin, 2019). Therefore, Figure 7.2.4 suggests that despite the negative effect of the forthcoming Brexit on the UK’s bilateral investment position within the EU, in fact the Netherlands is receiving the benefit of increased inward investments from that country. This confirms the image often portrayed in the media of British firms relocating their activities to the Netherlands in light of the uncertainty around Brexit (Homan, 2019; Bremmer, 2019; Van Velzen, 2019).

The infographic on the next page zooms in on the recent investment relationship between the Netherlands and the UK, more specifically the years after the Brexit referendum. It clearly shows the surging trend of the past three years in which UK investments have more than doubled in each consecutive year. In 2018, UK investments in the Netherlands were even at their highest level in eight years’ time. Conversely, Dutch investments in the UK halved between 2016 and 2017. In 2018 there was even a withdrawal of Dutch investments from the UK, to the amount of 11 billion euros.

11 billion euros in Dutch investments withdrawn from the UK in 2018 Buitenvorm Binnenvorm
H7 2 0 …while Dutch investments in the UK have dropped (or even been withdrawn) 2016 2017 2018 €50 bn €24 bn –€11 bn Since the Brexit referendum… 0 UK investments in the Netherlands have risen sharply… 2016 2017 2018 €14 bn €35 bn €80 bn

7.3Multinational corporations in the Netherlands

DNB’s macro-level figures provide an overview of the total value of bilateral FDI flows. A more tangible measure of these investments and their impact on the Dutch business economy is the number of multinationals that are active in the Netherlands, their share in Dutch international trade and the number of persons employed at those firms. Previous CBS surveys have shown that in 2016 multinationals were responsible for 30 percent of the total of 635 billion euros in value added within the Dutch economy (CBS, 2018b). The bulk of this value added, around 113 billion, can be attributed to foreign multinationals, which are also spending large amounts of money on innovation, research and development. This section is taking a closer look at the Dutch multinational landscape.

Over 23 thousand multinationals in the Dutch business economy

In 2016 – the most recently available data are from this year – altogether 23,145 multinationals were active in the Dutch business economy, representing 2 percent of the business population. Approximately 43 percent had a Dutch parent company. This share has declined since 2010, when still 56 percent of the multinationals in the Netherlands were under Dutch control. Despite this decline in the number of Dutch multinationals, there has been a steady rise in employment at these companies. This is an indication of growth on balance in terms of employment, despite the decline in number. Altogether, these multinationals – both foreign and Dutch – supplied over 2.1 million jobs in the Netherlands in 2016. Employment at multinationals rose by over 15 percent relative to 2010. Throughout the Dutch business economy – including the non-multinationals – the number of employed persons grew by 5.3 percent between 2010 and 2016.

US enterprises in the Netherlands extending their lead

Just as in the total inward investment position (Figure 7.2.2), the US is also our largest investment partner as far as multinationals active in the Netherlands are concerned, see figure 7.3.3. In 2016, there were around 2,820 US-controlled enterprises in the Netherlands. A strong increase (+260) was seen between 2013 and 2016.

German (2,150) and British (1,310) multinationals also have many subsidiaries in the Netherlands. Another striking development is the growth in the number of companies under Belgian and Chinese management since 2013. The number of Chinese multinationals rose nearly 1.5 times, from 315 to 465. Around half of the Chinese-owned companies are active in the Dutch wholesale and retail trade. The share of Chinese companies has also grown in storage and transport services, IT services and among holdings and management consultancies. Finally, the number of employees working for a Japanese parent company grew significantly in 2016. This was largely due to the acquisition of a large Dutch enterprise.

Singaporean and Malaysian enterprises advancing

Over the past few years, the number of enterprises under control of more distant countries has increased. In 2013, around 105 Dutch companies were controlled by an ASEAN-5noot2 country; by 2016 there were already 145. Singaporean and Malaysian companies in particular have increased their influence in the Netherlands. The number of Dutch companies under the control of countries in the Gulf Regionnoot3 rose slightly between 2013 and 2016: from 65 to 85. The United Arab Emirates account for nearly half of this activity, followed by Saudi Arabia (15) and Kuwait (10). Unfortunately there is no information regarding employee numbers at these companies. Those companies falling under the control of North African countries are almost all under Egyptian management. Only Iran and Poland showed a (slight) decline in the total number of subsidiaries. The number of companies under Iranian flag was reset to 0 in 2016.

Majority of multinationals active in wholesale and retail trade

Most multinationals (foreign and Dutch combined) are active in wholesale and retail trade (8,425), and to a lesser extent in specialised business services (3,990) and in manufacturing (3,520), see figure 7.3.5. Subtle differences can be observed between Dutch and foreign multinationals. For example, foreign multinationals are relatively more active in the sector information and communication aside from wholesale and retail trade than Dutch multinationals. Dutch multinationals are better represented in construction, manufacturing and specialist business services. These ratios have remained fairly stable, not only between the groups but also in the period between 2010 and 2016.

Although the majority of – Dutch and foreign – multinationals are active in wholesale and retail trade, this service sector is not dominated by multinationals. Multinationals only accounted for approximately 3 percent of the more than 250 thousand companies in this sector in 2016. In specialised business services as well, the nearly 4 thousand multinationals accounted for a 1‑percent share of all companies. At around 5–10 percent, the share of multinationals is slightly higher in manufacturing, energy supply and water and waste management. In 2016, the largest share of multinationals was found in the sector mining and quarrying with 26 percent of the total number of holdings, see figure 7.3.6.

Large foreign multinationals in accommodation and food services

In 2016, multinationals were good for 38 percent of total employment in the Netherlands. This share increased by 4 percentage points as of 2010 (when the total was still 34 percent). As for jobs created in the Netherlands, there are several large differences between Dutch and foreign multinationals. Especially Dutch multinationals in renting and other business services are major employers, see Figure 7.3.7; one-third of all employed persons at Dutch multinationals were active in this branch of industry (job placement and temporary agencies). This share as well rose sharply relative to 2010. In addition, one-quarter of all persons employed at Dutch multinationals work in wholesale and retail trade, and 1 in 7 work in manufacturing. Although around 41 percent of foreign multinationals are active in wholesale and retail trade, this applies to around 31 percent of their workforce. The average workforce in this sector is therefore smaller at foreign multinationals than at the average Dutch multinational in the same sector. The reverse holds true for the sector accommodation and food services, where the foreign multinationals are relatively larger employers than the Dutch ones.

Around 55 percent of employment in manufacturing on account of multinationals

Not only are employed persons at Dutch multinationals often active in the sector renting and other business services, they also make up a considerable share of total employment in this (large) industry. Over one-third of the more than one million employees in this industry are employed by a Dutch multinational. One in eight are employed by a foreign multinational. Dutch multinationals create the bulk of employment in energy supply, see figure 7.3.8; nearly 43 percent of the entire workforce in this sector are employed by this kind of multinational. Foreign multinationals hold the largest share in the employment of the (relatively small) sector mining and quarrying as well as in the manufacturing sector. Employment by multinationals is least prevalent in the consumer electronics repair industry and in real estate, renting and business activities.

Around 80–90% of international goods and services trade involves multinationals.

In addition to the relatively large involvement of multinationals in the Dutch job market, the bulk of international trade is conducted on their behalf as well. Whereas multinationals only take up around 2 percent of the entire business economy, in 2017 they were responsible for 81 percent of the imports and 82 percent of the exports of goods, see Figure 7.3.9. The foreign multinationals are most involved as they account for 56 percent of total imports and 53 percent of total exports of goods, against 25 percent and 29 percent respectively among Dutch multinationals. In the case of international service trade, this pattern is even more clearly discernible with multinationals accounting for 90 percent of service imports and 88 percent of service exports in 2017. Here as well, foreign multinationals contribute the bulk with 70 percent of service imports and 62 percent of service exports.

7.4Dutch multinational activity abroad

One of the four key policy priorities in the Foreign Ministry’s trade agenda entitled ‘Investing in Global Prospects’ lies in the opening of doors and expanding the international presence of the Netherlands in selected regions and countries, for example through trade missions and business support services. It is the Ministry’s ambition to consolidate and deepen relations with established markets such as Germany, the US or the UK. In addition, to maintain more assertive relations with emerging markets such as China, ASEAN-5, India or Brazil (BHOS, 2018a and 2018b). This section focuses on the countries in which Dutch companies operate, their local business activities and the number of jobs they create. It is obviously not possible to include all countries and regions in detail. More information and figures on this topic can be found in the dataset accompanying chapter 7, which can be accessed through the main page of this publication.

Most Dutch subsidiaries abroad are in Germany

Dutch multinationals also make foreign investments. For example, by acquiring stakes in a foreign company or by setting up a subsidiary abroad. There are many Dutch-owned companies abroad, particularly in Germany, France, the United States and the United Kingdom, see Figure 7.4.1. Especially Germany and France stayed in the lead with 542 and 296 new Dutch subsidiaries respectively between 2010 and 2016. In the same period, however, a decline was seen in Dutch subsidiaries in Belgium (–134), Poland (–111) and China (–100). In China, mainly Dutch companies in the sector transportation and storage closed down (or were taken over by other companies or multinationals), followed by industrial companies and financial institutions. In Belgium, the number of Dutch-owned subsidiaries fell in nearly all industries except manufacturing.

Singapore attractive to Dutch multinationals

In the ASEAN-5 region, Dutch multinationals are mainly investing in Singapore, followed by Malaysia and Indonesia. Of the 810 companies onder Dutch control in this region, nearly half were established in Singapore in 2016. Altogether, 670 Dutch companies were active in the ASEAN-5 region in 2010. There was more significant growth in Singapore: from 275 such companies in 2010 to 375 companies in 2016. The majority were active in advertising, research and other specialised business services, as well as transport and storage, and wholesale and retail trade. The number of Dutch companies in Thailand declined during the survey period from 105 to 90. These were mainly companies in wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing and transport and storage. As shown by figure 7.4.3, this involves a large number of jobs.

UAE leading in attracting Dutch business in the Gulf region

In the Gulf region, it is mainly the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which represent an interesting partnership for Dutch multinational investments. Of the approximately 280 companies under Dutch control in de Gulf region, in 2016 altogether 195 were established in the UAE. This number has grown considerably since 2013, by 130. The majority were active in manufacturing, consultancy, research and other specialised business services, as well as in wholesale and retail trade. The number of Dutch companies declined in Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait while the (relatively small) number of Dutch businesses in Qatar and Saudi Arabia rose during the survey period.

Number of Dutch subsidiaries in North Africa stable

In 2016, the country with the highest number of Dutch subsidiaries in North Africa was Morocco. Of the 95 Dutch companies in this region, 40 were in Morocco. Tunesia and Egypt both had 25, Algeria 5. Back in 2010, Tunesia was still the country with the highest number of Dutch companies (35), but this number has declined in subsequent years. Looking at the four countries combined, the number of Dutch-owned enterprises has remained stable between 2010 and 2016.

As for foreign companies with Dutch multinational investments, these are fairly evenly distributed across the following industries: manufacturing, wholesale trade, financial institutions and consultancy, and research and other specialised business services (see figure 7.4.2). Not much has changed in these ratios between the various countries and industries since 2010.

Altogether there were 13,282 Dutch subsidiaries abroad in 2016. They employed approximately 1.4 million persons. In 2010 the number of employees was still 1.6 million, which comes down to a decline of 187 thousand employees over six years’ time.

Most of these employees (331 thousand) were found in Germany in 2016, see figure 7.4.3. The top 3 further includes the United States (266 thousand)noot4 and the United Kingdom (182 thousand). Another striking feature is the relatively high number of employees per subsidiary in Belgium, where 84 thousand employed persons at 85 Dutch subsidiaries means each company employs nearly one thousand people. This is 3.5 times higher than at Dutch companies in Mexico, which ranks second. Dutch companies in Mexico employed on average 275 persons in 2016. By way of comparison: Germany has on average ‘only’ 86 employees per company. Other notable developments are the relative increases in Vietnam (+67 percent), Malaysia (+38 percent) and India (+26 percent) and the declines in Thailand (–‍52 percent) and Australia (–‍40 percent). The differences in size and development are related to the economic activities abroad by Dutch multinationals ias well as the economic situation and business cycle at the local level.


Open references


BHOS (2018a). Trade agenda in the Policy note ‘Investing in global prospects’.

BHOS (2018b). Policy note Investing in Global Prospects.

Bremmer, D. (2019, 1 February). ‘Brexit-paniek: een op de drie Britse bedrijven verplaatst personeel naar Europa’. Algemeen Dagblad. Consulted on 19 June 2019.

CBS (2018a). CBS Internationalisation Monitor 2018, fourth quarter: Financial globalisation. Statistics Netherlands: Heerlen/The Hague/Bonaire.

CBS (2018b). Multinationals and non-multinationals in the Dutch economy. Statistics Netherlands: Heerlen/The Hague/Bonaire.

CBS (2019). CBS Internationalisation Monitor 2019, first quarter: United States. Statistics Netherlands: Heerlen/The Hague/Bonaire.

DNB (2018, 21 september). SNB: Overschot lopende rekening tweede kwartaal hoger dan een jaar geleden. Consulted on 18 June 2019.

DNB (2019, 2 mei). DNBulletin: Buitenlandse investeringen van en naar het VK duiken in de min. Consulted on 18 June 2019.

Driessen, C. (2018). NRC checkt: ‘VS investeren 70 miljard minder door maatregelen kabinet.

Forbes (2017). Best Countries for Business, The List. Consulted on 7 November 2018.

Homan, M. (2019, 24 januari). Brexit-buit: 250 bedrijven willen zich vestigen in Nederland. RTL Z. Consulted on 19 June 2019.

NOS (2018). Amerikaanse ondernemingen keren Nederland de rug toe.

Mersbergen, Van, S. (2018), Amerikaanse bedrijven laten Nederland steeds vaker links liggen.

Van Velzen, J. (2019, 1 February). Al 18 procent Britse bedrijven verplaatsten banen vanwege Brexit. Trouw. Consulted on 18 June, 2019.

World Economic Forum (2018). Global Competitiveness Report 2018. Consulted on 1 November 2018.

UNCTAD (2018). World Investment Report. Investment and new Industrial Policies. Consulted on 1 November 2018.


See Chapter 2 of the CBS Internationalisation Monitor (CBS, 2019) for a detailed analysis of the bilateral investment relationship between the Netherlands and the United States.

The ASEAN-5 countries are Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Gulf Region consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The aforementioned number of 266 thousand American employees at Dutch-controlled companies resident in the US deviates from the numbers such as were quoted in chapter 5 of the Internationalisation Monitor on the United States (CBS, 2019). This is related to the fact that the figures in the Internationalisation Monitor were obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, which uses a different definition of multinational activity than CBS. CBS applies the definition of ‘UCI’ or ‘ultimate controlling institute’ in determining under which flag a company operates, in accordance with the Foreign affiliates statistics (FATS). In that case, employment is allocated to the country where effective decisionmaking and control are established of the entire corporation. The BEA uses the term ‘UBO’ or ‘Ultimate Beneficial Owner’, which is more a term which refers to legal ownership rather than control. See also:


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Linda Bruls

Loe Franssen

Marjolijn Jaarsma

Alex Lammertsma

Tom Notten

Pascal Ramaekers

Khee Fung Wong

Editorial team

Marjolijn Jaarsma

Alex Lammertsma

Pascal Ramaekers

Editors in chief

Marjolijn Jaarsma

Alex Lammertsma


We would like to thank the following colleagues who collaborated with us on this edition of Dutch Trade in Facts and Figures 2019 - Export, investment and employment:

Elijah Cats

Dennis Cremers

Frans Duijsings

Richard Jollie

Carla Sebo-Ros

Roos Smit

Sandra Vasconcellos

Roger Voncken

Hendrik Zuidhoek

CBS Translation Unit

We would also like to thank the following members of staff at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their feedback on a forerunner of Dutch Trade in Facts and Figures:

Klaas Bouman

Tom Beerling

Laurens den Hartog

Marga Veeneman