The fact that the Netherlands, as a small and open trading nation, is highly interconnected with other countries becomes particularly clear during a crisis. Global lockdown measures, travel restrictions and other measures to curb the spread of coronavirus had an immediate impact on production, consumption, trade, transport and investments in 2020. Shortages of critical components such as chips and semiconductors continued to worsen as 2020 and 2021 progressed, and an imbalance between supply and demand in the global economy caused supply chain problems, higher transport costs and a sharp increase in prices of raw materials and especially energy. The blockade of the Suez Canal by container ship Ever Given in March 2021 was a telling example of how efficient and yet vulnerable world trade can be. It caused a huge pile-up of container ships on one of the world’s most important waterways. Economic advisers to the US president aptly christened 2021 the year in which supply chains and interdependencies between countries became dinner table conversations (Council of Economic Advisers, 2022).
By early 2021, the Netherlands’ international trade in goods had returned to its pre-crisis level. Growth continued strongly thereafter. In March 2021, almost €52bn worth of goods were exported: a record month. Compared to the pre-pandemic year 2019, in 2021 the value of goods exports was 14% higher and the volume 7% larger. Services trade suffered for a longer period of time in the coronavirus pandemic, particularly due to recurring lockdowns and travel restrictions. In 2021, service imports and exports were still lower than in 2019 by 15% and 11%, respectively. The Netherlands ended the year 2021 under lockdown once again, due to the impending Omicron variant. This had an unfavourable impact on travel and international traffic, stalling the further recovery of the Dutch economy (0.7% GDP growth in Q4). In hindsight, the sharp rise in prices of raw material and energy at the end of 2021 was modest compared to the explosive price increases of natural gas, oil, food and commodities since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The year 2022 has turned out to be another eventful one, characterised so far by sky-high inflation, an extremely tight labour market with a record number of vacancies per unemployed person, parity between the euro and the US dollar, and a war on the eastern border of the EU. The latest news and other reports on globalisation, such as the Internationalisation Monitors, can be found in our Globalisation dossier.
Dutch Trade in Facts and Figures 2022: Exports, imports and investments is a publication developed by the CBS Expertise Centre for Globalisation at the request of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It aims to provide a broad target group with objective information on internationalisation trends in the Dutch business economy and the national economy in a broad sense. Furthermore, it offers independent data for trade policy decisions by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Apart from the data tables with annually recurring key figures, this publication contains an outline of the main current events behind the figures.
The years 2020 and 2021, and even 2022, are to some extent atypical because of the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit, the high consumer price inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In order to do justice to all these developments, the so-called corona box of the previous editions has been dropped and replaced by a new chapter which addresses such recent developments in more detail. Where possible, glimpses of the aforementioned four developments are also being offered in other chapters.
Listed below are some of the main findings presented in this editionnoot1:
Chapter 2: Major developments in 2021 and 2022
- Dutch exports to Ukraine and Russia have decreased significantly since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Imports from Russia, particularly mineral fuels but also metals like copper, nickel and iron, have increased significantly in value due to steep price increases. Imports of maize and sunflower seed oil from Ukraine have also increased sharply in price, but the decrease in import volume has been proportionally larger during the war.
- Inflation has surged since the end of 2021: in April 2022, consumer prices were almost 10% up on April 2021; manufacturing output prices were even up by 29% on average.
- In 2020, many import prices were still falling due to lower demand at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, overcapacity and low oil prices. In 2021 and 2022, prices of key products went up sharply, with commodity prices rising to unprecedented levels. For example, the import price of vegetable oils was already 60% higher in April 2021 than in the same month a year earlier; and in April 2022 another 50% higher than in 2021. Aluminium was 17% more expensive in 2021 than in 2020; it was another 61% more expensive in 2022. This was due to much higher import prices, which many industrial producers (such as in the petroleum industry, chemical industry and food industry) incorporated into their selling prices.
- The volume of Dutch trade in both goods and services contracted rapidly at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. Q2 2020 was the low point for goods trade with both goods imports and exports about 11% smaller in volume than in Q4 2019. A relatively quick recovery followed, and by Q4 2020, import and export volumes already exceeded pre-pandemic levels. Despite new pandemic waves at home and abroad, the volume of goods trade continued to grow steadily throughout 2021.
- Initially, the impact of the coronavirus crisis on international service trade was within the same order of magnitude as its impact on international goods trade. In Q2 2020, the volume of service exports was almost 13% lower than at the end of 2019. The volume of imports was 11% lower. However, unlike goods trade, trade in services did not recover in 2020 and 2021, but sank even deeper. Travel restrictions and other measures to combat coronavirus were an important reason for this decline, along with decreased services trade as a result of new tax regulations in the Netherlands.
- Brexit mainly affected re-exports and quasi-transit good flows from the Netherlands to the UK which originate from non-EU-countries; Brexit has made it unattractive for e.g. Asian enterprises to use the Dutch route, as goods that are not produced in the EU or in the UK will be taxed and checked twice (when entering the Netherlands and when entering the UK). The value of Dutch domestic exports with a UK destination is so far hardly being affected by Brexit, but this may still change as not all Brexit measures have been implemented.
Chapter 3: International trade in goods: composition and geography
- In 2021, Dutch goods imports and exports were higher than ever. The Netherlands exported goods worth close to €587bn; an increase of 13.8% on 2019. Imports of goods amounted to almost €527bn in 2021 or 14.5% more than in 2019.
- The record value of both imports and exports is mainly due to higher prices. Between 2019 and 2021, the volume of imports increased by 6.6% while the export volume rose by 5.7%.
- In exports, machinery was the largest product category in 2021. However, at over 26%, exports of chemical products increased most significantly between 2019 and 2021. In imports, machinery was also the largest category, just before manufactured products. In all product categories except transport equipment, the import value increased between 2019 and 2021. Passenger car imports did lag behind in 2021.
- Germany, Belgium and France were the largest export destinations for the Netherlands in 2021. Between 2019 and 2021, the value of exports to Poland and South Korea increased the most. The bulk of imports came from Germany, China and Belgium. Imports from China increased the most in value, but imports from Germany and Belgium also showed an above-average increase. The value of imports from the US and the UK increased less than average.
- Dutch goods exports in the period 1970–2020 generally followed patterns in global trade. The cumulative growth of Dutch exports in this period was slightly lower than the growth of world exports. This does not mean that the Netherlands performed (relatively) poorly. The Netherlands has always been an established trading country. The fact that the development of Dutch exports has continuously followed world exports very closely, despite the emergence of a number of major players such as China, means that the Netherlands has maintained its position as a prominent trading country.
- In recent years and since 2016 in particular, the Netherlands has even managed to expand its share in world exports of goods. This means that Dutch exports seem to have evaded the global trend of slowing growth. Although the reasons for this remain unknown, the figures show that the relatively good performance of Dutch exports stems not so much from changes in the structure of exports, but mainly from the fact that the Netherlands is active in markets with above-average growth. Exports to Germany, and to a lesser extent to the UK, Belgium, China and the US, determined the relative growth of Dutch trade in the period 2000–2020.
- In 2020, the Dutch share in worldwide exports of goods was 3.3%. The Netherlands was the fifth largest exporting country in 2020, after China, Germany, the US and Japan. The Netherlands is an important supplier of goods for many countries. This is the case, for example, for Belgium, Sweden, Germany, France, Denmark, Nigeria and Poland.
- In 2020, the Dutch share in worldwide imports was around 2.8%. Compared to 1970, the Netherlands’ role in world imports had declined. Globally, the Netherlands was the seventh largest importing country in 2020; it ranked fourth among the group of European countries. The Netherlands is an important market for goods from many countries, including Belgium, Ivory Coast, Norway, Finland, Germany and the UK.
Chapter 4: International trade in services
- In 2021, the Netherlands exported services worth almost €211bn, i.e. a year-on-year increase of 5.7%, but still 10.5% (€25bn) less than in 2019. More specifically, exports of travel services and business services (mainly those provided by travel intermediaries) had not recovered yet.
- Exports of intellectual property decreased in 2020 and 2021, not only due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also due to new tax regulations in the Netherlands that are less favourable for multinational enterprises.
- The UK was the most important export destination for Dutch services after Germany and the US.
- In 2021, Dutch imports of services amounted to over €200bn. This was 7% more than in 2020, but 15% less than in 2019. As for service imports, the largest contractions relative to 2019 took place in travel services, business services and intellectual property transactions.
- The main importers of Dutch services are the US, the UK and Germany.
- Almost half of all Dutch trade in services is conducted by enterprises in the Greater Amsterdam region. Together with Greater Rijnmond, Greater The Hague, South East Noord-Brabant and Utrecht, it covers over 70% of total Dutch services trade. Relatively the largest number of enterprises active in international services trade is located in the regions of Zeelandic Flanders, Mid Limburg and South Limburg.
- The Netherlands is the main trading partner for Belgium in both imports and exports of services; for Germany, it is the fifth largest. As for services trade with the UK and the US, the Netherlands is more dependent on these countries than vice versa.
- On the other hand, the Netherlands is a more important partner in services trade for Poland, Sweden, Iceland and Lithuania than vice versa.
Chapter 5: Characteristics of enterprises that trade internationally
- In 2020, 30% of the Dutch business economy (approximately 406,000 enterprises) was trading internationally. This represents an 8% decrease on 2019. The group of international traders comprises 64% one-way importers, 12% one-way exporters and 25% two-way traders. The share of one-way importers decreased significantly more than the shares of one-way exporters and two-way traders.
- A small group of international traders are responsible for the bulk of the trade value. A quarter of all trading enterprises (two-way traders) account for 97% of the total amount of imported and exported goods and services. Within this group of two-way traders, the bulk of the value is contributed by a small group of large enterprises.
- In 2021, both the export and import of goods recovered from a dip in 2020. The value of traded goods increased in almost all industries, with the biggest growth in transportation and storage (77%). Large enterprises exported over three times as much in value as independent SMEs.
- The number of service trading enterprises declined by 17% in 2020. The majority of service trading enterprises (92%) are independent SMEs without subsidiaries abroad; 3% are independent SMEs with foreign subsidiaries, and 5% are large enterprises. The average value of exported services is higher than the average value of imported services.
- In 2020, 37,000 enterprises started exporting goods or services, 3 thousand fewer than in 2019. Conversely, 21,000 enterprises withdrew from the international market as exporters, i.e. 2,500 more than a year earlier. One in five enterprises starting exports in 2020 was founded that same year; 33% of them is 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 female-led enterprises is lower than that of businesses led by male entrepreneurs.
- The vast majority (almost 80%) of full-time equivalents (FTEs) in the internationally active business economy is employed by enterprises with a share of imports in relation to turnover of up to 25%.
- Employees at enterprises 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 enterprises 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 6: Dutch earnings from international trade
- In 2020, the value added due to exports of goods and services amounted to €254bn. This is a share of 31.8% of GDP. Dutch exports were disproportionally affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In pre-pandemic 2019, 33.3% of GDP was driven by exports.
- Exports of domestically produced goods have generated the bulk of export earnings for the Netherlands (€120bn), followed by exports of services (€100bn) and re-exports (€34bn).
- Germany is traditionally the largest export destination for the Netherlands. The earnings from exports to Germany amounted to €48bn in 2020, much more than destination number two the United Kingdom (€25bn) and number three Belgium (€23bn).
- Dutch exports of goods and services rely on the import 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 for the Netherlands. Earnings per euro of exports vary from one export category to another. In 2020, the Netherlands earned the most for each euro – around 63 cents – from exports of services. For domestically produced exports, earnings were 56 cents per euro and for re-exports 14 cents.
- Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Dutch GDP decreased significantly, namely by 3.8%. Exports of goods and services contributed 2.2 percentage points to this decline, of which 1.6 percentage points came from service exports, 0.5 percentage point from domestic exports, and 0.2 percentage point from re-exports of goods. The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionally affected the export of services as many foreigners were not able to travel to the Netherlands, which meant a significant amount of lost income for Dutch enterprises.
- In 2020, 2.4 million FTEs were induced by exports of goods and services, 1.1 million of which were due to direct employment by exporting enterprises and 1.3 million to employment by enterprises that supply exporting enterprises.
- Most export-induced employment comes from goods and service exports to Germany (453,000 FTEs), followed by the UK (239,000 FTEs) and Belgium (208,000 FTEs).
- Agricultural occupations (e.g. farmers) involve relatively many hours worked due to foreign demand.
- Roughly 30% of the labour supply is related to exports. For the self-employed, this is 35%.
Chapter 7: Dutch participation in global value chains
- In 2020, imports amounted to €540bn, including €399bn in goods and €141bn in services. Relative to 2019, imports decreased by €52bn or 8.8%.
- Nearly half of the imported goods (€200bn) were intended for re-exports.
- Intermediate imports amounted to €278bn, of which the bulk (€100bn in goods and €83bn in services) was processed in the Netherlands during the production of goods and services that were subsequently exported.
- Petroleum and petroleum products (€14bn) and chemicals (€10bn) were the main imported goods used in export-oriented production processes. Germany (€14bn) and Belgium (€9bn) were the principal countries of origin for goods that were incorporated into Dutch exports.
- Business services (€24bn) and royalty fees for the use of intellectual property (€17bn) made up the largest inputs of foreign services in exports. The US (€15bn), the UK (€10bn) and Germany (€8bn) were the main countries of origin of services incorporated into Dutch exports.
- The Netherlands plays an important role in intra-regional trade in the European single market. A large share of the imports incorporated into exports (€47bn, accounting for 31% of the total) came from the EU-28 and went to another (or the same) EU-28 country.
- There is a high degree of dependence on the EU-28 for imports incorporated in exports when it comes to grain and grain products (76%), with the bulk of the remaining amount imported from Ukraine (18%). Imports of industrial products (75%) and chemical products (70%) to be processed in Dutch exports largely came from the EU-28 as well.
- Russia, the UK, the US and Norway accounted for 61% of all Dutch imports of petroleum, coal and natural gas incorporated in exports.
- Relative to 2019, the import of services from the EU and incorporated in Dutch exports has decreased more (by 14%) than the import of services from non-EU countries (–3%). The reverse is also true for the import of goods: imports from non-EU countries (–22%) decreased by much more than imports from EU countries (–7%), mainly due to lower imports (or lower prices) of fossil fuels.
- Outside Europe, the US and China remain major players in imports into the Netherlands which are processed by domestic enterprises. The Netherlands still required imports from the US that were more than four times the value (€18.5bn) of the imports from China (€3.9bn) 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 (79%) of the imports used involved services. A similar pattern can be seen in goods exports, as 75% of total imports required for the exports of goods involved goods.
Chapter 8: Foreign direct investment and multinationals
- Direct cross-border investments are an important part of the economic interdependence that exists with other countries. By investing in foreign subsidiaries, enterprises can expand the scale of their production, employ cheaper or more efficient local production factors, but also fiscal benefits may be considered in setting up a subsidiary abroad.
- Worldwide, the Netherlands is one of the most important players in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI). However, similar to previous years, a significant part of the direct investment entering the Netherlands is channelled abroad. Around 65% of Dutch FDI is carried out by Special Purpose Entities (SPEs) and holding companies.
- Globally, a strong recovery in foreign direct investment (FDI) was observed in 2021 compared to 2020. Both the inward and outward FDI position of the Netherlands showed a solid recovery in 2021 and, apart from FDI by SPEs and holdings, exceeded the level of 2019. Compared to 2020, in 2021 inward FDI increased by 19% (excluding SPEs and holding companies) and outward FDI by 7%.
- Even when FDI through SPEs and holding companies in the Netherlands is excluded, the Netherlands was still the second largest player worldwide in terms of outward FDI in 2021, after the US. In terms of inward FDI, the Netherlands was the fourth largest country last year, after the US, China and the UK.
- In 2020, 24.3 thousand multinational enterprises were active in the Dutch business economy. This is equivalent to 1.8% of all enterprises in the Dutch business economy. Almost 60% of multinationals in the Netherlands were foreign-owned in 2020.
- Approximately 4 in 10 employed persons work for a multinational in the Dutch business economy, which amounted to 2.3 million people in 2020. Employment at multinationals decreased year on year in 2020, mainly in Dutch-owned multinationals active in food and accommodation services and other sectors that suffered most during the coronavirus crisis.
- In 2020, around 81% of the import value in the business economy consisted of imports by multinationals, down from 84% in 2018. Foreign-owned multinationals imported the most (€164.5bn), i.e. over two thirds of all imports by multinationals.
- Dutch multinationals showed the largest decline in goods imports relative to 2019 (–€16.7bn or –17%) in comparison with foreign multinationals (–€14.8bn or –8%). The decline in the value of goods imports among foreign multinationals in 2020 was mainly on account of the manufacturing sector (–€9.4bn), including foreign enterprises in the oil and chemical industry, the car and trailer industry and in machinery repair and installation. Imports of goods by Dutch multinationals declined across the board in 2020, but especially in manufacturing (oil industry), specialised business services, energy supply and wholesale and retail trade.
- Goods exports of the business economy decreased by €17bn in 2020 compared to 2019. The largest export contraction was seen in the manufacturing industry (–€12.8bn), of which €7.2bn was due to contracting goods exports by foreign multinationals (especially in the chemical and machinery industry, car and trailer industry, other transport equipment industry and basic metal industry). Dutch multinationals also lost €3.8bn in exports, mainly related to the oil industry.
- Multinationals play an even larger role in services trade than in goods trade. On average, over 90% of both imports and exports of services in recent years has been on account of multinationals, with once again foreign multinationals taking the lead. In 2020, foreign multinationals imported the highest amount worth of services (€106.2bn), followed by €32.9bn in services imported by Dutch multinationals and €10.3bn imported by non-multinationals. In 2020, multinationals saw the largest decline in service imports; foreign multinationals accounted for about 85% of the decline. These were also responsible for the largest decrease in service exports in 2020.
- In 2020, around 21% of the foreign-owned multinationals in the Netherlands were US-owned. The US, Germany, the UK, Belgium and France combined accounted for more than 65% of all foreign enterprises in the Netherlands. Compared to previous years, there was an increase in the number of British-owned enterprises in the Netherlands, possibly in the run-up to Brexit and thus to secure a presence in the European Union.
- Germany had the most enterprises under Dutch control in 2019: almost 2.9 thousand.
Chapter 1 comprises a dashboard with the key findings from chapters 2–8 and is not included here.