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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 triannually as part of the Globalisation research agenda at Statistics Netherlands (CBS), commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The central theme in this edition is the relation between digitalisation and international trade.

Digitalisation not only transforms what we trade but also how we conduct business and who is involved in the process. For instance, digital technologies significantly reduce the costs of participating in international trade. Digital platforms like Amazon and Alibaba empower businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to assert new roles in global value chains. Consumers, too, benefit by gaining easy access to international markets through digital platforms. Consider Booking.com, originally a Dutch enterprise, that has evolved into an international giant by digitally offering accommodations worldwide. And how many consumers realise they are engaging in international trade when they subscribe to Netflix or Spotify? Or when securing insurance from a German insurer? In a digital world where import and export are just a click away, the boundaries of traditional trade are blurring. The embrace of digital technologies is changing the composition of (international) trade and redefining intellectual property rights in commerce.

Digitalisation impacts not only trade but every facet of our daily lives, influencing communication, knowledge consumption, purchasing habits, and entertainment choices. Digitalisation fosters unprecedented connectivity and offers countless opportunities. However, the digital revolution also raises questions.

While a growing number of studies indicate that digitalisation – and its associated aspect, robotics – does not have a negative impact on overall employment, digitalisation can indeed have significant consequences for specific occupational groups, such as administrative personnel, call centre employees, and production workers.

The growth in digital activities also makes us increasingly dependent on digital infrastructure and technologies. This vulnerability exposes us to disruptions, data breaches, and more frequent cyberattacks, with all the associated consequences. Digitalisation brings forth various challenges, including concerns about privacy, ethical considerations regarding artificial intelligence, spatial constraints due to the need for new physical infrastructure, the surging demand for energy, and the fading presence of physical stores. Moreover, the ability of businesses, employees and consumers to keep pace with the increasingly digitalised world affects the distribution of wealth in the Netherlands.

These pressing issues highlight the importance of digitalisation for policymakers and, in fact, for all of us. However, it is impossible to cover all perspectives in a single publication.

The main findings in this edition include:

Chapter 1: Digitalisation and internationalisation

  • Digitalisation has a widespread impact on global trade. Enterprises use digital applications such as email, automated processes, robotics and artificial intelligence to organise their production processes more efficiently. (Cross-border) e-commerce also opens doors to new markets and customers. At the same time, digitalisation leads to new digital services and products. In this chapter, we provide a definition of digital trade, explain how it is measured and present figures on digitalisation that are relevant to the Netherlands and in comparison with other EU countries.
  • Digital trade is all international trade that is digitally ordered and/or digitally delivered. The statistical definition of digital trade is therefore based on the nature of the transaction, and not on the characteristics of the product or service being traded or on the characteristics of the actors involved in the transaction.
  • Digitally ordered trade is a synonym for cross-border e-commerce: a good or service is traded internationally via web shops, online intermediation platforms or other online applications specifically designed for receiving or placing orders. This does not include placing an order via email or fax.
  • Digitally delivered trade are all international trade transactions delivered remotely over computer networks. The concept of digitally delivered trade, by definition, only includes services.
  • The two most important surveys about digitalisation distributed by CBS are the survey on ICT usage among households and individuals and the ICT survey among enterprises. The results of these surveys provide an overview of the usage of ICT resources by households and enterprises in a broad sense.
  • CBS’ Structural Business Statistics provide information on the turnover of the Dutch retail sector (the sector that is mainly selling to consumers). These include separately presented figures on turnover through the internet as a sales channel (e-sales).
  • CBS conducts annual research on all online platforms established in the Netherlands. The survey focuses on online intermediary platforms connecting buyers and sellers and facilitating transactions; by definition, purchases are digitally ordered. If one of the three actors (buyer, seller or the intermediary platform) is located abroad, it is considered digital trade. Fees for the use of the platform are part of digital trade as well.
  • Compared to other EU countries, the Netherlands is at the forefront of digitalisation in terms of both digital intensity and (cross-border) e‍-‍sales.
  • There are other sources and possible research angles that may provide insights into digitalisation and internationalisation. Hence, we show examples of digital trade research from a value chain perspective, e-commerce sales, de minimis trade and parcel post, digital intermediary platforms and payment data.

Chapter 2: Scope and characteristics of Dutch digital trade

  • In 2021, almost a third of all firms in the Netherlands were engaged in e-sales to consumers and/or other firms; about half of those firms were also engaged in e-sales to customers abroad (digital trade). Combined, they exported €76bn in digitally ordered goods and services, accounting for 14% of total Dutch exports that year.
  • Digitally delivered services make up an increasing part of Dutch services trade, with an import value of €164bn and an export value of €162bn in 2022 (64% and 58% of total service imports and service exports, respectively). In 2021, more than half of enterprises trading in services also exported digital services. Of the digital service exporters, 43% only export digitally deliverable services while 10% also export non-digitally deliverable services.
  • Looking at the firms behind digital trade, we observe some differences between those with and without digitally ordered trade and those with and without digitally delivered services. Among independent SMEs, the share of enterprises with both digitally ordered exports and digitally delivered exports is smaller than among large enterprises. In addition, multinationals are more active in exports involving e-sales and exports of digital services than non-multinationals. Both exporters of digitally delivered services and firms with cross-border e-sales have a higher share of exports in their turnover. Enterprises trading digitally are therefore relatively more dependent on exports than non-digital exporters.
  • Based on descriptive analyses, firms with digital exports (both e-sales and digitally delivered services) also appear to export to more destinations. In 2021, enterprises deriving at least half of their e-commerce turnover from sales abroad exported to 26 countries on average; for enterprises without e-sales, this was an average of 18 countries. The average number of export destinations for all firms in the sample of firms with services trade rounds up to 5. For firms with digitally delivered service exports it is 6, and for firms without digital exports it is 4.
  • The OECD Digital Services Trade Restrictiveness Index (DSTRI) is a new tool that identifies, catalogues and quantifies cross-border barriers affecting digitally traded services. Globally, the average DSTRI score increased between 2014 and 2022. This suggests that regulation of digital services trade has become stricter at a global level.
  • The Netherlands is one of the relatively more open countries for cross-border digital services. Of the ten top export partners in digital services for the Netherlands, six have become more restrictive over the period 2014–2022.

Chapter 3: Digitalisation in firms in relation to exports, productivity and employment

  • Digitalisation has made a notable imprint on the way in which firms operate and will keep influencing operations in the future. Firms may have different digitalisation practices to different degrees. These different digitalisation modes can affect the performance of these firms in different ways. This chapter highlights the effects of digitalisation on the firm’s export behaviour and consequently on its productivity and employment rates.
  • The emphasis lies on examining the individual impact of ICT as a proxy for digitalisation on export participation, export intensity, productivity and employment. Firm-specific characteristics, such as industry and size, will be controlled for, taking into account the indirect effects these four variables may have on each other.
  • The general connotation is that higher digitalisation rates are associated with a greater likelihood of export participation, albeit depending on the sector, business size and type of ICT. In particular, enterprises incorporating robotics, e-commerce sales, or remote working are at least 4.6 percentage points more likely to participate in exports than their counterparts. This is generally true for the export intensity of firms as well.
  • Furthermore, through productivity gains, digitalisation may indirectly increase the likelihood of export activity, yet this likelihood remains small in our analysis. It becomes clear that the direct effects of digitalisation on productivity are generally positive across the different ICTs. Whereas firms that have adopted remote working or CRM-ERP software are at least 3.0% more productive than firms not adopting such ICT, firms using robotics are on average 5.2% less productive.
  • Contrary to popular belief, there is no negative influence of digitalisation on employment, with the exception of remote work. Firms using ICT for sales and marketing, such as e-commerce or social media, have at least 2.8% higher employment levels than firms not using e-commerce or social media. The indirect effects of productivity on employment remain comparatively insignificant, but there are substantial effects for several combinations of sector and ICT. For example: remote working directly reduces employment in the trade sector, while it leads to a 5.3% increase in productivity among firms in the same sector.
  • This chapter highlights the importance of individual studies on ICT technologies and the heterogeneous nature of digitalisation. Future research could deepen the understanding of the interaction between specific ICT technologies and industries and other firm characteristics. Furthermore, it could be interesting to include different branches such as R&D and improve data availability on recent technologies such as cloud services and artificial intelligence, as these have only become available in recent years.

Chapter 4: The role of robotics in firms: trade, value chains and wages

  • This chapter investigates the role of robots in manufacturing firms in the Netherlands. It focuses on providing a general characterisation of robot-adopting firms, outlining their role in the value chain and evaluating the impact of robot use on employment and wages.
  • Firms that adopt robots are larger and more internationally oriented than those that do not adopt robots. They are more likely to be importers, exporters and/or multinationals.
  • Robot adopting firms import more intermediate and processed goods than those that do not adopt robots. They are also more likely to import goods related to machine engineering and transport equipment.
  • Our results suggest that robot-adopting firms are more likely to fulfil a specific role in the value chain and are well integrated within enterprise groups.
  • Our results also suggest that firms that start using robots in their processes are doing this to automate existing tasks, while those that discontinue the use of robots appear to stop performing the specific tasks previously done by robots. That production may be moving upstream, away from the business itself.
  • Robot-adopting businesses pay higher wages on average compared to those not using robots.
  • Firms that adopt robots grow more rapidly in terms of employment than those that do not adopt robots.
  • Among those firms adopting robots for the first time, no short-term impact was found on the type of work in terms of tasks or occupations.

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Medewerkers

Auteurs

Sarah Creemers

Dennis Cremers

Dennis Dahlmans

Dio Limpens

Bart Loog

Michael Polder

Janneke Rooyakkers

Mark Vancauteren

Christiaan Visser

Redactie

Sarah Creemers

Roger Voncken

Eindredactie

Sarah Creemers

Roger Voncken

Dankwoord

We danken de volgende personen voor hun constructieve bijdrage aan deze editie van de Internationaliseringsmonitor:

Marcel van den Berg

Deirdre Bosch

Marjolijn Jaarsma

Bart Klijs

Tim Peeters

Roos Smit

Fiona Smith

Eelco van Vliet

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