Photo description: ECT container handling at Maasvlakte, Port of Rotterdam

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As a small, open trading nation, the Netherlands has strong links with the rest of the world. Being closely interconnected in international trade and production chains can also have a downside in times of crisis or in a pandemic. This became immediately apparent with a sharp drop in imports and exports of goods and services in 2020. Travel – spending by foreign tourists and travellers in the Netherlands, and by Dutch travellers abroad – halved and specific goods flows such as mineral fuels and transport equipment were also reduced in 2020. The total import and export value of goods declined by 8% (imports) and 6% (exports) in 2020, while for services, the import value shrank by 12% and the export value was down by 7%.

Global trade in goods recovered relatively quickly during 2020. Dutch exports of goods actually grew in volume in September, but this was not the case for the trade in services. Other international developments, such as increased prices, shortages of raw materials and components, as well as higher transport costs, may have a longer-lasting effect on international production chains. If indispensable parts suddenly cannot be supplied, production may have to be halted. This makes international production chains, in which the Netherlands is a major participant, vulnerable at times.

The year 2020 ended with a brief closure of the borders between the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU), the prospect of a ‘hard Brexit’ as a future scenario, and the final push to achieve a trade deal. Despite this agreement, relationships between the UK and the EU – and the Netherlands – have changed. As a trading partner, the UK’s export share declined further in 2020 and in the first quarter of 2021, despite the fact that the UK is a major supplier of goods, and especially services, that the Netherlands needs in its export production. In 2019, Dutch companies made relatively frequent use in their export production of British business services (such as management consulting, legal or technical services) and intellectual property owned (or managed) by British companies.

Before the coronavirus crisis, about a third of Dutch GDP and employment was due to exports of goods and services. Preliminary figures show that in 2020, this share had shrunk, mainly due to the contraction in travel. The prosperity that exports of goods and services bring to Dutch society has a downside, specifically the pressure that these trade flows put on the environment. CO2 emissions from international trade and transit flows to and from foreign countries rose by more than 3% between 2007 and 2019. Cross-border road transport in particular made a relatively large contribution to these emissions. In contrast to this increase in CO2 emissions, there has been a decline in emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. These, too, are aspects of the Netherlands as a trading nation that Statistics Netherlands (CBS) will continue to focus on in the future.

More news and reports in the field of globalisation, as well as the Internationalisation Monitor, can be found in our dossier.

Director General

A. Berg

The Hague, Heerlen, Bonaire, November 2021


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Anne-Peter Alberda

Arjen Berkenbos (DNB)

Chris de Blois

Timon Bohn

Sarah Creemers

Hans Draper

Eva Hagendoorn (DNB)

Marjolijn Jaarsma

Bart Loog

Tom Notten

Tim Peeters

Leen Prenen

Janneke Rooyakkers

Khee Fung Wong

Editorial team

Sarah Creemers

Marjolijn Jaarsma

Janneke Rooyakkers

Editors in chief

Sarah Creemers

Marjolijn Jaarsma


We would like to thank the following colleagues for their constructive contributions to this edition of Dutch Trade in Facts and Figures:

Deirdre Bosch

Elijah Cats

Dennis Cremers

Frans Dinnissen

Loe Franssen

Daniël Herbers

Richard Jollie

Irene van Kuijk

Rik van Roekel

Carla Sebo-Ros

Roos Smit

Sandra Vasconcellos

Gaby de Vet

Roger Voncken

Karolien van Wijk

Hendrik Zuidhoek

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

Laurens den Hartog

Harry Oldersma