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Executive Summary

The Internationalisation Monitor describes trends in globalisation and the consequences thereof for the Dutch economy and society. It is published quarterly as part of the Globalisation research agenda at Statistics Netherlands (CBS), commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

International trade is an important source of income for many countries and therefore constitutes a major part of the national economy. In order to export, large amounts need to be imported. In 2019, the total value of Dutch goods exports was over €516bn; 30% of the goods had a non-EU destination. In the same year, goods imported amounted to more than €459bn, of which just under half came from non-EU countries. Since imports and exports are essential to the national economy, trade policy instruments such as import quotas and import tariffs may be used in order to increase the market share of domestic sectors and create new jobs. A higher import tariff makes imported goods more expensive, causing consumption to shift to domestically produced goods. Suppose the US decides to impose a tariff of 10% on all imported cars. After the tariff is imposed, US cars become more competitive because instead of competing with a $25,000 foreign car, they now compete with a $27,500 foreign car. This could boost the sale of US-produced cars.

When one country’s trade policy measures lead to new measures from another country, tension in the bilateral trade relationship tends to rise. This was the case for the US and the EU in 2018: the US imposed tariffs on European steel and aluminium imports, also affecting the Netherlands as the fifth largest steel exporter in the EU. In response, the EU took counter­measures in the form of tariffs on various typically American goods – such as jeans, make-up and whiskey.

This edition of the Internationalisation Monitor focuses on trade policy instruments and the trade conflict between the US and the EU. We start off by describing how the US-EU trade conflict arose, how it has developed over time, which products were tariffed and when. An event study also examines how Dutch importers of goods from the US adapted their behaviour after the EU imposed additional tariffs on imports from the US in 2018. Then, we provide a clearer picture of how tariffs affect trading prices between countries. First, we look at how Dutch importers – in terms of traded value, quantities and price – deal with the tariffs imposed by the EU on imports from non-EU countries. Who pays the price for these import tariffs: the foreign exporter by (partially) lowering the price or the Dutch importer? Secondly, we examine the effect of US import tariffs on Dutch exports to the US. Who pays the price for the American import tariffs: the Dutch exporter or the American buyer?

Import tariffs not only have direct effects on importers and exporters but also indirect effects. After all, international trade activities do not stand alone but rather form part of international production chains. In addition to the direct costs paid by a Dutch exporter for import tariffs in the destination country, import tariffs may also apply to raw materials and semi-finished products as part of the production process of that particular export. This is why we calculate the extent to which such indirect trading costs have an effect further down the production chain.

Instead of setting and increasing import quotas and import tariffs, it is also possible to choose to remove trade barriers and import duties by concluding trade agreements. We describe what CETA means for Dutch companies and the developments in goods trade with Canada. We investigate to what extent Dutch enterprises make use of the trade agreement and which factors can determine whether companies make use of it.

Listed below are some of the main findings presented in this editionnoot1:

Chapter 1: The EU-US trade relationship

  • For many years, the United States and the European Union have been key bilateral trade partners. The US has a deficit in goods trade with the EU versus a surplus in service trade with the EU. The US foreign trade policy was focused on lower tariffs and more free trade from the nineties onward, but this changed with Donald Trump, whose ‘America first’ policy gave new momentum to protectionism.
  • In January 2018, the Trump Administration raised tariffs on washing machines and solar panels. Compared to the total trade between the EU and the US, this involved small amounts in additional tariffs (€50 million and €25 million, respectively).
  • In March 2018, the US announced tariffs on steel (25%) and aluminium (10%), which were implemented as of 1 June. Due to this measure, 1.4bn in additional tariffs were levied on European products. The EU reacted by imposing tariffs on approximately 180 US products as of 22 June 2018. These EU tariffs represented €0.5bn worth of additional European import levies on American products.
  • Anticipating decisions made at the World Trade Organisation, in April and July 2019 the US threatened to raise its import tariffs, citing violation of WTO rules regarding subsidies to the EU aircraft industry.
  • On 2 October 2019, the WTO ruled that the US was allowed to impose import duties on €6.7bn worth of EU goods in retaliation for the subsidies to the European aircraft industry. A few weeks later on 18 October, the US imposed extra import tariffs on civil aircraft (10%), on food, beverages and tobacco (25%) and on clothing (25%). On 18 March 2020, import tariffs on civil aircraft were raised further from 10 to 15%.
  • Likewise, the EU has denounced the subsidies to the US aircraft industry before the WTO. On 29 September 2020 the WTO agreed with new tariffs on €3.4bn worth of US imports due to the illegal subsidies to the US aircraft industry. These have been levied since the US presidential election in November 2020.
  • In order to tackle the mismatch between the place where the value added of digital services is created and the place where taxes are paid, several countries have installed temporary digital service taxes. As these taxes mainly hurt US companies, the US considers them to be discriminatory. Therefore, the US threatened it would retaliate against them in December 2019 and June 2020. The EU responded in July 2020 that it would take an even more aggressive stance towards these digital levies. In practice, however, the European digital service taxes never entered into force or were postponed.
  • Between the inception of the European tariffs on 22 June 2018 and December 2019, Dutch importers have collectively paid €44.5 million in import tariffs on 182 tariffed products.
  • Both descriptive and empirical analyses show that Dutch importers have significantly reduced import quantities of these tariffed goods. The average unit value (excluding the tariff) has not changed significantly. Since importers are primarily responsible for paying the import tariff to customs, this suggests a full pass-through of the tariff onto Dutch importers. In other words: Dutch importers pay the costs of the tariff and respond by importing less.
  • There was a temporary increase in the total import value of tariffed products between the announcement (March 2018) and the enforcement (June 2018) of European import tariffs. This increase can be linked to a significant rise in the number of Dutch firms importing such products during this period. This suggests an anticipation effect along the extensive margin: firms anticipating the enforcement of tariffs try to stock up on products that will shortly become more expensive.

Chapter 2: European import tariffs: who foots the bill?

  • This chapter investigates the effects of European import tariffs against the Netherlands’ 50 most important non-EU import partners on the total import value, import volume and unit values.
  • China is the top country of origin in terms of the value of Dutch imports subject to tariffs. At 3.7%, the weighted average tariff rate on Chinese products is also relatively high.
  • The United States comes in second on the list of most tariffed countries of origin for EU imports. The total amount of tariffs levied on American products is almost €300 million. However, the weighted average tariff rate is much lower than in the case of China, namely 1.5%.
  • The level of the ad valorem import tariffs varies widely. In most cases, tariff rates remain below 5%. However, some products are subject to rates up to 75% or even higher. Certain tobacco products are the highest tariffed goods.
  • Over 65% of imports consists of products with zero tariffs. Another 15% of imports carry a maximum tariff rate of 2.5%.
  • While independent SMEs are responsible for 20% of the value of imports, they bear up to 35% of the total value of tariffs levied. This is not only due to the fact that independent SMEs import more expensive products (including tariffs), but also because they import from countries on which the EU imposes higher tariff rates.
  • A similar pattern is observed when multinationals (both foreign-owned and Dutch-owned) are compared to national firms. National firms contribute 16% of the imported value but bear 25% of the total value of tariffs levied on Dutch imports.
  • When looking at aggregate effects, the econometric analyses suggest that import tariffs lead to significantly lower prices of the imported good. This suggests that Dutch importers do not have to bear the full costs of the import tariff, but are able to share it with the foreign exporter. In fact: the Dutch importer bears on average 67% of any tariff increase. Aggregate findings further suggest that import quantity and values are not affected.
  • When controlling for firm heterogeneity, however, a different picture emerges. It appears that the aggregate effects are fully driven by foreign-owned multinationals. Only these firms are able to pass on a significant (44%) share of the tariff to the exporter. Other Dutch importers bear 100% of the tariff and respond to that by significantly reducing the quantity imported.

Chapter 3: US import tariffs and their impact on Dutch exporters

  • In 2019, approximately half of all Dutch goods exported to the US were subject to import tariffs.
  • About 2% of all Dutch goods exported to the US in 2019 were affected by temporarily increased, or punitive, tariffs. The total export value of the affected goods that year was €627 million. The biggest share was on account of steel and aluminium exports. Of the total export value, only 3.2% was affected by temporarily increased import tariffs.
  • In 2019, around 63% of all Dutch enterprises exporting their products to the US were faced with import tariffs. At the same time, only a small share of these Dutch exporters was affected by the newly increased tariffs, mainly due to the increased tariffs on steel and aluminium.
  • Due to the increased tariffs on steel and aluminium, which came into force in June 2018, US customs’ revenue rose sharply. The total revenue originating from Dutch imports over the period 2013–2019 amounted to €254 million, the bulk of which was due to steel imports (€237 million).
  • The results of the econometric analyses are in line with the results from Chapter 1 and evidence from the literature in general. The increased American import tariffs reduce the quantity of Dutch goods exported to this country. Although prices of Dutch goods remain unaffected, this tariff lowers the overall export value of these products to the US. The fact that prices remain unaffected suggests that the costs of the US import tariffs fall on the US and not on Dutch exporters. Similar effects are found for the export of steel and aluminium exported to the US.

Chapter 4: Tariffs and international production chains

  • While trading with countries outside the European Union, both importing and exporting companies often face tariffs. On average, importing companies face a 1.4% tariff on imports from outside the EU, while exporting companies face an average tariff of 3.7% on domestically produced exports to non-EU countries.
  • Exports of domestically produced consumption goods are the highest taxed (tariff rate of 7.2%), while tariffs on intermediate goods (2.9%) and capital goods (1.2%) are significantly lower.
  • Domestically produced exports by the food, beverages and tobacco industry (tariff rate of 10%) and the textile, clothing and leather industry (7.1%) face the highest tariff rates in world markets. Product categories that are facing double-digit tariff rates are tobacco, dairy, textile fibers, meat, prepared food stuffs, oils, fats and waxes and vegetables and fruits.
  • China (tariff rate 6.9%), Brazil (8.9%) and India (9.9%) are the main export markets where Dutch domestically produced exports face above-average tariffs. Despite recent changes in US trade policies towards the EU, domestically produced exports to the United States (1.5%) remain considerably below average global tariff levels.
  • Dutch imports of consumption goods face the highest tariff rates (2.5%), while imports of intermediate and capital goods face average tariff rates of 1%.
  • The textile, clothing and leather industry faces the highest average tariffs on their imports of intermediate goods (3.4%), followed by the food, beverages and tobacco industry (2.0%).
  • Imports of meat, dairy and confectionary are facing double-digit tariff rates.
  • In absolute terms, most taxes were paid on imports of intermediate goods from China (€202 million), followed by imports from the United States (€117 million).
  • Countries and sectors that are highly integrated in global value chains are characterised by a high import content of exports. The extra-EU import content of extra-EU exports for the Netherlands equaled 18.9%. Imported raw materials and intermediate goods from outside the EU also face import tariffs, amounting to 0.13% of the extra-EU export value. This gives a two-stage tariff rate of 3.86% (3.73 + 0.13) and a magnification rate of 1.03 or 3%. In other words, the tariffs applied to raw materials and intermediate goods used in the production process increase total tariff costs by 3%.
  • The highest tariff rates on intermediate goods used in export production are faced by the textile, clothing and leather industry (0.7% of the export value), the food, beverages and tobacco industry (0.29%) and the chemical industry (0.20%). The machinery industry faces a rather high magnification ratio (1.12, or 12%).
  • Tariffs on both Dutch imports and exports are zero or low on unprocessed raw materials and increase or escalate as products undergo processing. This phenomenon is known as tariff escalation.
  • The competitiveness of exporting industries is also dependent on finding the cheapest, most reliable and most flexible suppliers of intermediate inputs, which may not be located in the EU. Tariffs interfere with this process, potentially costing employment and incomes up and down the value chain.

Chapter 5: CETA: a bright spot in a world of rising protectionism?

  • The Netherlands has free trade agreements (FTAs) with a range of countries and regions. To stimulate trade, so-called deep FTAs not only reduce barriers at the border (import tariffs), but also behind the border, such as non-tariff measures, or regulate matters related to investment, intellectual property and environmental regulations.
  • The EU has negotiated an FTA with Canada: CETA. Since mid-2017, the part that deals with trade has been in effect. This chapter looks into the development of trade with Canada and the use of the FTA in Dutch-Canadian trade.
  • In 2019, the Netherlands imported around €2 bn in goods from Canada. Theoretically, the mean tariff for imports from Canada was less than 1% in 2019. However, not all companies make use of the trade agreement. Some 16% of total imports is imported under Most-Favoured Nation (MFN) conditions, while it could have been imported tariff-free under the CETA agreement.
  • Of all CETA-eligible imports in 2019, 60% was actually imported under CETA. This is the ‘preference utilisation rate’.
  • One factor that appears to influence the decision whether or not to trade under the FTA is import volume: the higher this volume, the more a company saves by making use of CETA.
  • Of all CETA-eligible exports to Canada in 2019, 55% was actually traded under CETA.


Note that the figures presented chapters 1, 2, 3 and 5 are based on figures of the International Trade in Goods source statistics. In Chapter 4 figures from the National Accounts are used. The source statistics use different concepts from those of the National Accounts. For example, source statistics are based on cross-border trade in goods, while economic ownership is leading for the National Accounts. Integration into the National Accounts results in additional differences. In consequence, the figures in chapters 1, 2, 3 and 5 cannot be compared directly with those in Chapter 4. For more information on these differences, see ‘CBS import and export statistics’.


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Met vragen kunt u contact opnemen met het CBS.



Marcel van den Berg

Loe Franssen

Alex Lammertsma

Angie Mounir

Tom Notten

Janneke Rooyakkers

Iryna Rud


Sarah Creemers

Marjolijn Jaarsma

Alex Lammertsma


Marjolijn Jaarsma

Alex Lammertsma


We danken de volgende collega’s voor hun constructieve bijdrage aan deze editie van de Internationaliseringsmonitor:

Timon Bohn

Elijah Cats

Gerard den Drijver

Richard Jollie

Irene van Kuik

Tim Peeters

Carla Sebo

Mark Vancauteren

Sandra Vasconcellos

Gabriëlle de Vet

Hans Westerbeek

Karolien van Wijk

Khee Fung Wong

Hendrik Zuidhoek

Daarnaast danken we ook de volgende mensen voor hun constructieve bijdrage:

Shenjie Chen: Global Affairs Canada

Ron Davies: University College Dublin

Rodolphe Desbordes: SKEMA Business School

Anne Griffioen: Evofenedex

Christopher Maloney: Statistics Canada


Ondanks de zorgvuldigheid waarmee deze publicatie is samengesteld, zijn er achteraf enkele onvolkomenheden geconstateerd. Onze excuses hiervoor.

Datum: 11 januari 2021