Foto omschrijving: ECT containeroverslag Maasvlakte Haven Rotterdam

Executive Summary

Dutch Trade in Facts and Figures: Exports, imports and investment provides an overview of key figures on the internationalisation of the Netherlands. Many figures were already available from various CBS publications and data tables, but had not been bundled into a single publication. At the request of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the CBS Expertise Centre for Globalisation therefore developed Dutch Trade in Facts and Figures, which appeared for the first time in 2019 and is published annually as part of the Globalisation research agenda at CBS. This publication aims to provide a broad target group with objective information on the internationalisation of the Dutch business economy and the national economy in a broad sense. Furthermore, it offers independent data for trade policy decisions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Apart from the data tables with key figures, this publication contains an outline of the major trends behind these figures.

Some of the figures and trends in this publication relate to 2019, a year in which the world looked very different. Policy and international agendas then featured issues such as the climate and nitrogen crises, tensions between the United States, China and the EU, and the potentially ‘hard’ Brexit that was thought might take place by the end of January 2020.noot1 It could not have been foreseen at the time that the world, including the Netherlands, would be in the grip of a pandemic in 2020. However, the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak dealt the world a huge and very sudden blow, first of all due to the unprecedented health crisis that took hold in many countries. The measures taken by countries to contain the outbreak had a major impact on social life, society and the economy. Lockdowns caused disruptions in production and trade chains, as well as international tourism and travel, and the closure of sectors such as accommodation and food services, culture and events had a huge impact on companies and entrepreneurs in the affected industries. As the summer of 2020 progressed, world trade recovered, recouping some of the losses of Q2, but with the resurgence of the virus in the autumn and the arrival of new virus variants, 2020 ended in a new lockdown for the Netherlands. The COVID-19 crisis, Brexit and the historically low oil price in 2020 undeniably affected the international activities of the Netherlands. The effects are most readily visible in the figures for the international trade in goods and services, and in the investment figures for the Netherlands, and these are therefore prominently featured in this publication wherever possible. In other statistics, such as those relating to multinational companies or value chains, these effects will only become clear when the 2020 reporting year becomes available, and possibly even later, when support measures are brought to an end.

Listed below are some of the main findings presented in this editionnoot2:

Chapter 2: Dutch earnings from international trade

  • In 2019, the value added due to exports of goods and services amounted to €272bn, accounting for 33.5% of GDP.
  • Most export earnings were generated by exports of domestically produced goods (€125bn), followed by exports of services (€112bn) and re-exports (€35bn).
  • The Netherlands earned the most from exports of goods and services to Germany (€51bn), followed by the United Kingdom (€28bn) and Belgium (€24bn).
  • Imported goods and services are utilized to enable exports of goods and services. The greater the amount of imports that is required to produce a certain good or provide a certain service, the lower the value added will be. Earnings per euro of exports vary from one export category to another. In 2019, the Netherlands earned the most for each euro – around 62 cents – from exports of services. For domestically produced exports, the figure was 54 cents per euro and for re-exports it was 13 cents.
  • In 2019, the volume growth of Dutch GDP was 1.7%. Exports of goods and services contributed 0.7 percentage point, of which 0.6 percentage point came from exports of services and 0.1 percentage point from re-exports of goods.
  • In 2019, 2.5 million full-time jobs were induced by exports of goods and services, of which 1.5 million were due to direct employment by exporting companies and 1 million to employment by companies that supply exporting companies. The 2.5 million full-time jobs induced by exports of goods and services represented 32% of the total number of full-time jobs in the Netherlands in 2019.
  • Most export-induced employment comes from exporting goods and services to Germany (472 thousand full-time jobs), followed by the United Kingdom (264 thousand full-time jobs) and Belgium (216 thousand full-time jobs).

Chapter 3: Characteristics of the internationally active business economy

  • In 2019, around one-third of the Dutch business economy (or approximately 442 thousand companies) was an active trader. This group of active traders comprised 67% one-way importers, 10% one-way exporters and 23% two-way traders.
  • The number of companies that trade internationally differs significantly between industries: 52% of companies in the wholesale and retail sector traded outside the Netherlands in 2019, while the share of international traders in the construction industry is limited to 18%. Of the independent SMEs, 33% was engaged in international trade; for the large enterprises this share was 89%. Almost 5% of all companies that trade internationally are multinationals.
  • In 2019, there were more than 445 thousand companies in the Dutch business economy that were internationally active. These are the active traders (442 thousand) as well as a small number of multinational companies that did not have any international trade in 2019 (3.1 thousand). Most companies are only active as importers, while nearly 33% of the internationally active companies also export goods and/or services.
  • More than half of the companies in the internationally active business economy are active in the wholesale and retail sector or in specialised business services. Nearly 44% of the companies that operate internationally have been in existence for 10 years or longer.
  • The group of companies that export goods or services abroad is extremely diverse and subject to strong dynamic forces. Every year there are new arrivals and there are companies which, voluntarily or out of necessity, close their doors, to international trade or completely. In 2019, nearly 18 thousand companies withdrew from the international market as exporters. Conversely, more than 32 thousand companies started exporting in 2019.
  • A quarter of new exporters in 2019 (7.9 thousand companies) can be characterised as born global. This is a special type of new exporter: companies that start exporting goods and/or services within a year of being founded. Of the born globals, 36% are active in business services.
  • There is hardly any difference between male and female entrepreneurs in terms of international trade activity. However, the median import and export value of companies headed by female entrepreneurs is lower than that of businesses led by male entrepreneurs.
  • The vast majority (80%) of full-time equivalents (FTEs) in the internationally active business economy are employed by companies with a share of imports in relation to turnover of up to 25%.
  • Employees at companies with a relatively high ratio of goods imports or exports to turnover (high import/export intensity) earn higher wages on average. This might be because companies that are more dependent on direct imports or exports employ older workers on average. Differences between sectors and levels of education and training, for example, could also play a role in explaining the wage gap.

Chapter 4: Composition of Dutch international trade

  • The Netherlands exported goods worth close to €483bn in 2020 – a decrease of around 6.3% compared to 2019. This contraction took place mainly in Q2.
  • The economy and international trade were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdown measures interrupted production processes and international value chains, and hit consumer and business demand for goods and services. In addition, there were lower trade prices in 2020 due to a sharply lower oil price.
  • Exports of mineral fuels saw the sharpest fall in 2020, down more than 34.4% from the previous year. Both lower demand for these products and lower oil prices played a role in this decline. If the exports of mineral fuels are excluded, the decline in goods export was 2.1% in 2020.
  • Exports of chemical products increased by 1.6% in 2020. Exports of medical and pharmaceutical products in particular grew strongly.
  • The value of domestic exports was more than €263bn in 2020, down 8.0% from 2019. Re-exports, with an export value of around €219bn, contracted by 4.3% compared to 2019.
  • The larger contraction in domestic exports was due to the relatively large share of mineral fuels in this type of exports. Dutch-made transport equipment also experienced a major decline.
  • In contrast, re-exports of chemical products grew by almost 10%. The COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, stimulated growth in medicines and other pharmaceutical products.
  • Independent small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) accounted for nearly 20% of total goods exports and large companies for almost 52%. However, exports by independent SMEs did still increase in 2020, by 0.8%, while goods exports by large companies fell by around 5.7%.
  • The Netherlands imported goods worth over €424bn in 2020, which was 7.8% less than in 2019. In the case of imports, too, the decline was mainly in mineral fuels, as well as in transport equipment (–15.8%); in 2020, considerably fewer lorries, passenger cars and parts were imported.
  • However, imports of chemical products, food and beverages, as well as raw materials and natural products, increased in 2020. Machinery was still the most important import category in 2020.
  • There was also a striking difference between the types of companies with regard to goods imports. The import value of independent SMEs increased slightly by about 0.6%, while that of large companies fell by 11.2% compared to 2019.
  • The trade in services also had to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic downturn. Exports of services fell by 6.6% to almost €230bn in 2020. Travel was hit especially hard by the lockdowns and travel restrictions. There were noticeable consequences for travel intermediaries and transporters, too, with business services and transport services seeing their exports fall sharply compared to 2019.
  • Exports of financial services and the use of intellectual property did increase in 2020. The growth in financial services was due to an increase in online payments. The rise in exports of intellectual property can be traced to streaming services of music, films and series.
  • Imports of services totalled €209bn in 2020: a drop of 11.7% from the previous year. Once again, it was travel that depressed imports of services in 2020, while imports of financial services increased in relation to 2019.

Chapter 5: Goods trade between the Netherlands, the EU and the rest of the world

  • In 2020, the Dutch share of worldwide exports of goods was 3.1%. The Dutch share of global exports to the EU (including the United Kingdom) was 6.6%. For countries outside the EU, the Netherlands is considerably less important and its share of global exports to non-EU countries was 1.4% in 2020.
  • In 2020, the Dutch share of worldwide imports was about 2.7% and its share of global imports from the EU was 4.5%. The Netherlands accounted for 2.2% of global imports from all non-EU countries.
  • In 2020, the value of Dutch goods exports was around €483bn, which was 6% less than in 2019. The EU was by far the most important market, taking a 70% share of exports. Due to increasing globalisation, this share has been declining steadily for years. Exports within the EU in 2020 were 6% lower than in 2019, while exports to countries outside the EU decreased by 7%.
  • Eight of the 10 most important export destinations belong to the EU and in 2020, most goods went to Germany (22% share) and Belgium (10% share). Exports to China and Poland grew, while exports to the other eight countries fell.
  • Dutch imports of goods totalled €424bn in 2020 – a drop of 8% from 2019. More than half (53%) were imported from an EU country. The EU share of imports has remained virtually unchanged since 2015. The value of imports from EU member states decreased by 7% in 2020 compared to 2019. Imports from non-EU countries contracted by 9% in 2020.
  • Among the top 10 importing countries are three from outside the EU: China, the United States and Russia. However, most goods come from the neighbouring countries Germany (18% share) and Belgium (10% share). Imports from China grew, while imports from the remaining nine countries decreased in 2020 compared to 2019.

Chapter 6: Dutch participation in global value chains

  • In 2019, imports totalled €591bn, of which €426bn were goods and €165bn were services.
  • Nearly half of the goods imported (€209bn) were intended for re-export. These imports for re-export were dominated by ICT products, such as machinery, computers and electronics.
  • Intermediate imports totalled €278bn, the bulk of which (€100bn of goods and €83bn of services) were processed in the Netherlands in the production of goods and services that were subsequently exported.
  • Petroleum and petroleum products (€25bn) and chemicals (€22bn) were the main imported goods used in export-oriented production processes. Germany (€18bn), Belgium (€12bn) and the United Kingdom (€7bn) were the principal countries of origin of goods that were incorporated into Dutch exports.
  • Business services (€31bn) and fees (royalties) for the use of intellectual property (€18bn) made up the largest inputs of foreign services in exports. The United States (€13bn), the United Kingdom (€11bn) and Germany (€10bn) were the main countries of origin of services incorporated into Dutch exports.
  • The Netherlands plays an important role in intraregional trade in the European Single Market. A large share of the imports that were incorporated into exports (€57.1bn, accounting for 34% of total imports for intermediate use) came from the EU-28 and went to another (or the same) EU-28 country.
  • The high degree of relative dependence on imports from Europe incorporated in exports was especially true for industrial products (73%) and chemical products (71%). The EU-28 share in the Dutch import share of petroleum and petroleum products was limited and this can be explained by the large imports from other countries (such as Russia, Norway, Iraq and Nigeria).
  • Imports from the United Kingdom were important (with 9% of total imports incorporated into Dutch exports). The Netherlands depended to an even higher degree on imports of services from the United Kingdom as a share of total services imports required to produce exports (12%), largely due to imports of business services.
  • Outside Europe, the United States and China are shown to be important players for imports to the Netherlands processed by Dutch companies. However, despite the growing influence of China in Dutch trade figures in recent years, the Netherlands still required imports from the United States worth more than three times the value (€16.5bn) of imports from China (€5.2bn) in order to produce its exports.
  • In general, exports of services relied more on foreign services inputs than was the case for goods exports. More than three-quarters (77%) of the imports used involved services. An identical pattern can be seen in goods exports, as 76% of total imports required for the exports of goods involved goods.

Chapter 7: Foreign direct investments and multinationals

  • In addition to international trade flows, direct investments are an important sign of the interdependence of the Dutch economy with other countries. By investing in foreign subsidiaries, companies can for instance benefit from an increase in scale or local production factors, but tax or legal motives may also be a motive. The Netherlands plays an important role worldwide in this respect, as shown by the establishment of a large number of Special Purpose Entities (SPEs) and holding companies.
  • Globally, there was a decline in foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis. In the Netherlands, too, there was a clear dip in both inward and outward foreign direct investment. Inward FDI fell by 2% (excluding SPEs and holding companies). Outward FDI fell by 5% to €1,851bn (excluding SPEs and holding companies).
  • Nevertheless, the Netherlands remained the third largest player worldwide in terms of outward FDI in 2020, after the United States and China. Inward FDI, excluding SPEs and holding companies, was around €1,391bn in 2020. This made the Netherlands the fourth largest recipient in 2020, after the United States, China and the United Kingdom.
  • In 2018, 26.5 thousand multinational enterprises were active in the Dutch business economy, representing 2.2% of the Dutch business economy.
  • Altogether, multinationals employed more than 2.4 million people in the Netherlands in 2018, accounting for 41% of total employment in the Dutch business economy. With this they offered 92 thousand more jobs than in the previous year. In 2018, Dutch multinationals employed around 324 thousand more people than foreign-owned multinationals.
  • Multinationals in the Netherlands were mainly represented in the wholesale and retail sector in 2018: 39% of foreign-owned multinationals and 29% of multinationals that were under Dutch control. These multinationals in the wholesale and retail sector employed 694 thousand people in 2018.
  • One in five foreign-owned multinationals in the Netherlands were US-owned (more than 3 thousand companies), followed at a considerable distance by Germany, with 2.3 thousand companies. The United States was therefore the largest foreign employer in the Dutch business economy in 2018, with around 218 thousand employees. Germany and France complete the top three largest foreign employers in the Dutch business economy.
  • The number of multinational companies controlled by Turkey doubled between 2014 and 2018, reaching 150 companies. This enabled Turkey to climb from 22nd to 17th place. Many Turkish companies choose to establish a branch in the Netherlands in order to expand in the European Union.
  • Germany had the most companies under Dutch control in 2018, at almost 2.6 thousand, followed by the United States, with 1,865 subsidiaries of Dutch multinationals. Compared to 2017, the number of Dutch subsidiaries grew the strongest in the United States (+35 subsidiaries). The number of Dutch subsidiaries operating in China also grew slightly (+10).
  • The number of subsidiaries of Dutch multinationals in the ASEAN-5 region rose again in 2018 (by 20%), to 805. The Gulf region also saw a slight increase (+10) in the number of Dutch subsidiaries in 2018, to 275 companies. In North Africa, there was no rise in the number of Dutch subsidiaries in 2018.
  • Many Dutch subsidiaries in the ASEAN-5 region are registered in Singapore, and between 2010 and 2018 this number increased by 110 to 385 companies. A notable decline was in Thailand, where the number of companies under Dutch control fell by about 30 compared to 2010.
  • In 2018, most Dutch companies in the Gulf region were located in the UAE (205). The number of Dutch subsidiaries in North Africa was stable at 95.

Chapter 8: International trade and transit flows – emissions by air on Dutch territory

  • Between 2007 and 2019, the actual COemissions associated with cross-border trade and transit flows increased by 3.4%. This increases the share within total mobile sources emissions to 23.1%. The increase is mainly due to a rise in COemissions in the flow of imports for re-export plus re-exports. The flow of goods imported for domestic use plus exports of domestically produced goods and the flow of goods for transit trade made a relatively smaller contribution to the additional COemissions over this 13‑year period.
  • For the road transport mode, COemissions associated with cross-border trade and transit flows increased by 6.4% between 2007 and 2019. This brings the share of road transport in total mobile sources emissions to 7.0%: an increase of 0.6 percentage point.
  • Maritime transport, with a share of more than 45.2% in mobile source emissions, is responsible for the largest contribution of nitrogen oxides related to the transport of cross-border trade and transit flows to, via and from the Netherlands. However, between 2007 and 2019, actual NOx emissions from maritime transport related to cross-border trade and transit flows fell by 12.5%.
  • Between 2007 and 2019, inland shipping was the only mode of transport that had an increase in the actual particulate matter emissions (PM10) related to cross-border trade and transit. This PM10 emission increased by 15.5%. With a share of 2.8% in mobile source emissions, inland shipping makes a limited contribution of PM10 emissions in the transport of cross-border trade and transit flows to, via and from the Netherlands.
  • Given the state of the technology used in the various means of transport deployed, the emission factor for cross-border transport and emissions by air on Dutch territory has improved for all three types of emissions. Most in the case of PM10 emissions. Compared to 2007, 157.3% more international goods could be transported internationally for each kilogram of PM10 emissions in 2019. For NOx emissions, 31.7% more international goods could be transported for each kilogram of nitrogen oxide emissions compared to the year 2007. In the case of CO2, the increase was limited to 4.7%. In 2019, it was possible to transport 112 kilogram of cross-border goods flows for each kilogram of carbon dioxide emissions compared to 107 kilogram in 2007.
  • For the individual modes of transport, the COemission factor for cross-border transport and emissions by air on Dutch territory declined the most for road transport. In 2019, it was possible to transport 72 kilogram of goods across borders for each kilogram of carbon dioxide emissions compared to 79 kilogram in 2007. This represents a decline of 8.8%. The CO2 emission factor for cross-border goods freight transport by air did not improve either, at 20 kilogram of goods per kilogram of COemissions. An improvement can be seen in the COemission factor for goods transported across borders by sea vessels. The factor increased by 14.6% in 13 years.


On 31 January 2020, the United Kingdom formally left the EU. A transitional period then came into effect, during which the EU and the UK negotiated the terms on which the two parties would continue their economic relationship in the future.

Chapter 1 comprises a dashboard with the key findings from chapters 2–8 and is not included here.


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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


Sarah Creemers

Marjolijn Jaarsma

Janneke Rooyakkers


Sarah Creemers

Marjolijn Jaarsma


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

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 danken ook de volgende medewerkers van het ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken voor hun feedback op een eerdere versie van Nederland Handelsland:

Laurens den Hartog

Harry Oldersma