Dutch Foreign Trade and Development Minister visits CBS

On 6 June, Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen was welcomed at CBS in The Hague. Ms Ploumen was presented with the first copy of the latest ‘Internationalisation Monitor’ by Director General Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi. The meeting included short presentations by CBS experts on a number of international topics, prompting a lively discussion with Ms Ploumen and Mr Tjin-A-Tsoi.

Recent developments

The ‘Internationalisation Monitor’ (IM) is a quarterly Dutch-language publication by CBS which zooms in on recent developments in globalisation. Each edition carries a different theme. The main feature for this year’s second quarter edition is agribusiness, a sector of industry which is of huge importance to the Dutch economy, as was explained to the minister by Marjolijn Jaarsma, spokesperson and project leader of the Internationalisation Monitor.

Agribusiness dynamics

The IM shows that agricultural exports peaked in 2015 with a total value of 81.3 billion euros. This makes the Netherlands the world’s second largest agricultural exporter after the United States. Exports, including agriculture-related products such as machinery and fertilisers, amounted to nearly 90 billion euros. This is 21 percent of total Dutch goods exports.
As the minister pointed out, ‘The image of our country abroad is defined to a large extent by agribusiness. There is a lot of interest in our technologies, which also contribute to our second position internationally. The dynamics in agribusiness are therefore very important.’

Innovations in internationalisation

The cooperation between CBS and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs - which includes Minister Ploumen’s portfolio - is very satisfactory, Mr Tjin-A-Tsoi said. The presentations underlined the importance of this collaboration and also indicated that there are more opportunities to work together in other areas. CBS researcher Roos Smit addressed innovations in internationalisation research, pointing out that the Netherlands is earning relatively high revenues from services, but could focus more on the behaviour of international services providers. ‘We now have a data source available to help us answer important questions in this area. One question could be: how much of international trade in goods and in services do SMEs account for? We are actively focusing on this question.’

Research into value chains

As Smit also indicated, CBS has recently launched a study of value chains. More and more production processes have been cut up into sections and divided across various countries. But what are the exact revenues for each country? Ms Smit used cocoa as an example. ‘Knowledge of the value chain is very important in our policy-making,’ the minister responded. ‘Especially for our aid and trade agenda, which is aimed at sustainable growth in developing countries.’ Citing the cocoa example: ‘If you know the values in the chain, you can put forward issues like fair pricing. You also have a better idea of which buttons to push to make trade interesting both for ourselves and for the local growers.’

Global goals

CBS National Accounts Department director Mr Gerard Eding explained national and international developments in sustainability. ‘Government leaders have placed their signatures under the UN’s Global Goals agreement, consisting of 17 key targets for sustainable development with 169 sub-goals. How will we monitor progress on these? A list with over 200 indicators has been drawn up. An initial inventory shows that the Netherlands has resources available for roughly 35 percent of these. This implies that over 65 percent of the indicators are not yet covered by the figures. The national statistics bureaus certainly have an important role to play here; however, this will require some investment. How are we going to report the national figures? How can we incorporate up the Global Goals in our existing sustainability monitor? And how do we take the wish list of the parliamentary commission of inquiry on ‘prosperity in a broad sense’ into account?


According to Eding, the Global Goals are quite ambitious: ‘In the political sense, at policy level, as well as for statistics. Close cooperation between the Foreign Ministry and CBS is essential in this respect. We will need to shape this cooperation further in the coming period.’ Minister Ploumen said she has high expectations of the rapidly developing technologies and data sources such as big data: ‘A great deal has changed in the field of data collection over the past ten, fifteen years.’ Mr Tjin-A-Tsoi added that CBS is an international forerunner in the field of innovation and big data.

Asylum migrants

The final presentation covered the international issue of asylum seekers. Researcher Katja Chkalova stated that although CBS can answer many questions both from the media and policymakers, it does not have an answer to all their questions. ‘At this moment, for instance, we know little about the people who are in the middle of their application procedure, but their integration, too, is a little-known area. We need to take further steps to obtain a clear and consistent, relevant and up-to-date picture of asylum migrants.’

Integrated refugee statistics

CBS has submitted a proposal to produce integrated statistics on refugees to an interdepartmental group, which includes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ms Ploumen emphasised the importance of reliable data. ‘My counterparts in refugee countries are telling me that the outflow has resulted in a drain on expertise and professional competences in their countries. I myself think so, too. It would therefore be very interesting to gain more insight into the refugee population: where do they come from, and why are they coming? Knowing the facts would create insight. This can further define our policies.’