The Netherlands: A trading nation

The Netherlands has trade in its DNA. Throughout the centuries, this relatively small northern European country has been one of the world's leading trading nations.

Driven by export

The Netherlands established naval trade routes that opened the door to our modern-day global economy. Today, the Dutch economy is still driven by export. Holland is the world's fifth largest exporter and the country owes 70 percent of its gross national product to export. Despite the global economic downturn, Dutch export volumes have continued to grow modestly in recent years, month after month.

Without a doubt, the motor behind Holland's exports are its agri-food and horticulture sectors. The Netherlands is the world’ssecond largest agricultural exporter and the world’s largest flower and bulb exporter. But the Netherlands is much more than an agrarian economy. Dutch companies lead the global pack in key areas such as chemicals, electronics, maritime engineering, energy, infrastructure and creative industries. No wonder some of the world’s leading multinationals are headquartered in the Netherlands, among them: Royal Dutch Shell, Unilever, Philips and Heineken.

International trade routes converge at Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe, and at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, a major international air logistics hub. Amsterdam is a major global financial centre, a position the city has held since the Dutch East India Company (VOC) invented shares in 1602.

Replica of the VOC ship 'Amsterdam'

Replica of the VOC ship 'Amsterdam'

Global orientation

The Dutch merchants of the 17th century fanned out across the globe in seek of new products and markets. So how did the sailors know where they were going? They used the Atlas Major, created by Dutch cartographers the Blaeu family, which in those days was the foremost navigational tool for Dutch traders. The Blaues made land and nautical maps for vast parts of the world, laying the basis for modern cartography. Today, navigation is guided by satellites and the Dutch have once again set an industry standard with Tom-Tom.

Blaeu's world map, published in the first book of the Atlas Van Loon (1664)

Blaeu's world map, published in the first book of the Atlas Van Loon (1664)

TomTom satellite navigation

TomTom is a Dutch manufacturer, and the world's leading supplier of automotive navigation systems.

The Dutch have never lost their international orientation. As a people, they are known for their language skills and their love of travel. The Netherlands is also a strong advocate of international law and justice. The country lobbies hard for a stable trading environment and international peace. The Netherlands is actively involved in the UN, is home to several international courts and tribunals and is aware of its international responsibilities and commitments.

Cooperation with other European countries is increasingly important to the Netherlands, given the issues it faces: climate change, energy supply and international security. Though the Dutch are individualistic, demanding the freedom to run their lives as they see fit, they are also keen on equality, and are known for their preference for cooperation and unflagging efforts to achieve consensus. The Dutch are keen negotiators, a tradition perhaps rooted in their trading past.

Always looking beyond its own borders, the Netherlands continues to develop new markets abroad. Whilst it is focussing on emerging markets, the country also continues its strong and vital trade relationship with its neighbour, Germany. A full 25 percent of Dutch exports are destined for Germany while nearly one fifth of imports into Holland originate in Germany.

God made man, the Dutch made Holland

The saying goes: 'God made man, the Dutch made Holland.' Almost half of the country has been created through land reclamation. With ingenious solutions - such as the world-renowned windmills - the Dutch pumped away water to make vast polders where new farms would thrive. The vast cluster of windmills north of Amsterdam, including saw mills and flour mills, was actually the first form of industry in the Netherlands. In recent years, Dutch innovation has helped to create new sources of energy, for example, from biomass. These techniques are being embraced around the world. So, too, is Dutch technology that enables farming in arid climates. The Dutch have even re-invented greenhouses, now using LED lighting and capturing energy to be re-distributed for use by neighbouring buildings.

LED-lit greenhouse at Koppert Cress uses less power and creates less light pollution

Dutch greenhouses

The greenhouses of Koppert Cress bv in Monster are some of the most innovative in the Netherlands.

Innovative solutions to global challenges

In 2013, the world turns to the Netherlands for innovative solutions to global challenges such as food supply and security, water supply, flood control, climate change, renewable energy, waste management and infrastructure. Countries around the world call in Dutch expertise to dredge harbours; build dikes and bridges; develop new land; set up sustainable farms; implement water supply systems; improve infrastructure, and create renewable sources of energy. Many cutting-edge innovations and inventions used around the world also stem from Dutch research and laboratories. Dutch knowledge institutes collaborate with business and government within industry clusters, pooling knowledge and resources to create new technologies and techniques. For instance, Brainport Eindhoven, also known as the Silicon Valley of Europe, is a hub where high tech giants such as Philips and ASML collaborate with researchers and start-up companies to develop new concepts and technologies. The Eindhoven region is a European leader in patent applications and was named 'World's most intelligent community' in 2012.

Hardwell at Summer Sound Festival 2012

Hardwell at Summer Sound Festival 2012

DJ Tiesto

DJ Tiesto

Dutch creativity

Water management, agri-food and infrastructure; these are areas in which the Netherlands enjoys a worldwide reputation. But some of Holland's most popular export products today come from the creative industries: television formats, music, fashion, architecture and serious and casual gaming. Dutch-made television shows such as The Voice, Big Brother and Splash, are being adopted by broadcast companies around the world. Some of the world's most popular games come from the Netherlands, including Killzone by Guerilla. Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren, DJ Tiesto aswell as DJ Hardwell all have been voted world's best DJ in the last decade. Meanwhile, Dutch designers such as Marlies Dekkers and Viktor and Rolf are redefining fashion while super models such as Doutzen Kroes and Lara Stone are giving a Dutch face to international fashion.

Synergy between trade and aid

For Holland, trade goes beyond delivering products and services, to providing know-how and expertise. Dutch talent is on demand in projects worldwide, including development projects. The Netherlands has a longstanding focus on foreign aid and development cooperation. Today, as more and more developing countries grow towards becoming emerging economies, the Netherlands is moving from an aid to a trade relationship with them. The Dutch government is integrating its trade and development policy and has established a new post, the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, held by Ms Lilianne Ploumen. The Dutch government aims to make it easier for small and medium-sized Dutch businesses to invest in developing countries, and to forge new coalitions between companies, NGOs and individuals, such as the coalition combating HIV/AIDS in Africa. At the same time, the Netherlands will continue to tackle inequality, to invest in the rule of law and emphasize the importance of sustainability.

From flowers and food to dikes and micro-chips, the Netherlands is a trade powerhouse. Its products and expertise reach far beyond its own borders, making a sustainable difference to the health, welfare and security of countries around the world.

Water and food projects

Water and food projects in Tanzania, farmers looking at agrimotor

Get to know the Dutch and their trading nation through this video

The Netherlands is one of the global leaders when it comes to export. 'Trade' flows through the Dutch DNA.

Dutch spirit of commerce

The Netherlands is one of the global leaders when it comes to export. 'Trade' flows through the Dutch DNA.