Doing business in the Netherlands: Netherlands trade and export guide

1.Netherlands export overview

The Netherlands is the fourth most densely populated country in the world. It has the 16th largest economy in the world and the sixth largest in the European Union (EU).

According to the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Competitiveness Index’ it’s the eighth most competitive economy in the world.

The Netherlands is home to over 400 British companies.

Benefits for UK businesses exporting to the Netherlands include:

  • member of EU Single Market
  • similar culture to the UK
  • ideal test market for products

Strengths of the Dutch market include:

  • early adopter of new technology
  • one of the world’s most open economies


Doing business in the Netherlands does not present major challenges to UK companies as the Dutch market is similar to the UK. However, the Dutch market is very open, and therefore highly competitive. UK companies should be well prepared in order to meet the competition from both domestic and international companies

3.Growth potential

3.1Economic growth

2014 saw a modest return to growth in the Netherlands economy. The Dutch economy is expected to grow by 2.0% in 2015 and 2.4% in 2016. This is a result of increased:

  • demand for Dutch exports
  • real disposable income with household consumption forecast to increase by 2.0% in 2016
  • public spending

Unemployment peaked in 2014 at 7.4%, and is forecast to decrease to 6.7% in 2016.

The budget deficit is expected to represent 2.1% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2015 falling to 1.5% in 2016.

3.2Trade agreements

The Netherlands is a member of the EU, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other international bodies. Goods manufactured in the UK are exempt from import duties.

4.UK and the Netherlands trade

The Netherlands is the UK’s fourth largest bilateral trading partner.

UK goods exports to the Netherlands were $36.7 billion in 2014. The top exports were:

  • mineral fuels, oils and distillation products
  • pharmaceuticals
  • nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery
  • vehicles
  • organic chemicals
  • electrical, electronic equipment
  • optical, photo, technical, medical apparatus

5.Opportunities for businesses in the Netherlands

5.1Food and drink

The Dutch food and drink industry was worth EUR 66.6 billion in 2014. Retail accounted for EUR 46.6 billion (70%) and food service for EUR 20 billion (30%). Per capita spend was EUR 2,352. Annual growth is forecast to be 1% in 2014 to 2016.

Opportunities for  companies include:

  • drinks, particularly alcohol-free beer and energy drinks
  • ethnic foods
  • frozen products
  • organic food
  • private label (as the Netherlands has a lower market share than the EU average)
  • sweets and snacks

5.2Offshore wind

The Netherlands plans to boost power from offshore wind farms fourfold and also curb energy use. Some offshore wind plans have been scaled back as they were too expensive, so the target will be achieved through technology cost reductions.

3.5 gigawatts of offshore wind power is forecast to be developed. Another 1 gigawatts is currently under construction. These offshore wind plans will offer opportunities to  companies throughout the project lifecycle including:

  • development and consent
  • environmental assessments
  • installation and commissioning
  • Operations and Maintenance (O&M) services

5.3Security and defence

The Netherlands offers many opportunities to companies that are active in the defence and security sectors.

After years of budget cuts the Dutch government will be modestly investing in in its defence capabilities. Projects include the replacement programmes for submarines and frigates.

There is increasing need for (cyber) security to keep the economy running. Amsterdam, the capital is a major centre of international commerce. The port of Rotterdam, the second largest city, is home to Europe’s most important logistics hub.

The Hague is also home to Europe’s largest security cluster, the Hague Security Delta, which includes:

6.Start-up considerations

Companies can approach the Dutch market in several ways:

  • export direct
  • set up an agency
  • appoint an importer or distributor
  • use agent or commission agent

It is advisable to have a local representative either on a commission basis, or as an importer/distributor. The Netherlands is a small and well developed market so personal acquaintances are important.

There has been an increase in use of online channels in both the Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Consumer (B2C) environment in the non-food consumer goods sector.).

Companies entering into agreements in the Netherlands should undertake professional  legal advice.

7.1Standards and technical regulations

Suppliers of products and services must ensure products are safe. They should meet relevant EU safety standards including clear instructions for proper use and include warnings against misuse.

EU standards apply with regard to packaging.

The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) has responsibility for standards in the Netherlands.

7.2Intellectual Property (IP)

Trademarks, designs, patents and copyright are the principal forms of Intellectual Property (IP) protection available to companies and individuals.

EU IP law has a major impact on local law. However, law covering intellectual property is not totally harmonised within the EU. In particular patent protection is only harmonised to a certain degree.

The Netherlands Patents Office (Octrooi Centrum) has responsible for IP in the Netherlands.

8.Tax and customs considerations

The Dutch tax office provides more information about taxes in the Netherlands.

8.1Value Added Tax (VAT)

VAT in the Netherlands is known as BTW. The usual rate is 21%. A reduced rate of 6% applies to:

  • food
  • water
  • art
  • medical aid
  • agricultural products

8.2Corporate tax

The Dutch tax office has Information about corporate taxation in the Netherlands.

8.3Income tax

The Dutch tax office has Information about income tax in the Netherlands.


The internal market of the EU is a single market which allows the free movement of goods and services. Therefore, no import duties apply.

Dutch customs provides information on customs and duties in the Netherlands.

8.5Entry requirements

You only need a valid passport.

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