The Netherlands are almost the world’s largest exporter of agricultural products! How did that happen?

23 January 2020
4 minutes

In 2019 The Dutch agricultural sector one again exported more than in the years before. A total of 94.5 billion euros worth of products was exported to other countries in 2019. This makes the Dutch agricultural sector the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, after the United States which is still the biggest exporter.

An achievement that shows that we can farm incredibly well in the Netherlands. Something we are very proud of.

But what makes us such a large exporter of agricultural products? What would happen if we were to import less? Or export less? In this blog I try to answer these questions.

Why do we import an export so much in the Netherlands?

The answer to this question begins in the ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Many goods are imported into Europe through these ports and then immediately send onwards to other countries. Our convenient location in Europe, our seaports and good infrastructure are an important reason so many bulk goods are imported and exported through our country.

Some of these goods exit our country almost immediately. A banana, for example, can be sent from the port of Rotterdam to a German supermarket just as easy as it can be sent to a Dutch supermarket.

Some bulk goods are processed by Dutch companies before they are exported. Take cocoa for example. It enters Europe – mostly in Amsterdam – and can be processed to chocolate by Dutch companies before it is exported to other countries.

And then there are the products we produce ourselves and then export to other countries. These are the products that made us famous all over the world. Such as flowers and cheese, but other dairy products, eggs and meat are of course included in this category as well.

What does that say about our agricultural sector?

The fact that we the Dutch can sell products all over the world shows that we deliver quality. Products that are originating in the Netherlands or are made by Dutch companies are generally in high demand. And rightly so. Even though we sometimes complain about the strict rules and regulations that apply in the Netherlands, those rules and regulations also guarantee that no one can doubt the quality of our products.

What would happen if we were to import less? Or export less?

There is a lot of discussion in the Netherlands on the future of our agricultural sector. In this discussion some people question the usefulness and necessity of our imports and exports. So why is the agricultural sector so important to our country?

For starters, about 600,000 people work in the agricultural sector. In addition to farmers, these people, for example, work at feed factories, slaughterhouses, transport companies, veterinary practices or as scientific researchers. This makes the agricultural sector a significant employer in the Netherlands.

In addition, we have taken important steps produce food in a more sustainable way. If we compare animal welfare in the Netherlands to other countries, there are significant differences. The same goes for the purchase of raw materials. In the Netherlands, all companies that process soy to produce food or feed use certified sustainable soy. That might not be perfect, but it is a valuable step in the right direction. Lowering greenhouse gas emissions? A litre of milk from a Dutch cow is perhaps the most sustainable litre of milk you can get when you look at these emissions.

Moreover, most of the products we export go to our neighbouring countries. About half of all Dutch exports go to Germany, Belgium, France and the United Kingdom. On a global scale, you could call that regional production.

So, let's imagine that we choose to produce less agricultural products in the Netherlands. Which would lead to less export. Would global food demand fall? Or would production move to countries where there is much less attention for animal welfare, the environment and the climate? I think it would be the latter. Which is why I’m hoping for good export figures in the coming year. Because these figures show our contribution to the availability of safe and healthy food all over the world.

Michiel Peters, Manager Corporate Affairs