Foreign trade the core focus of a new CBS publication

/ Author: Sjoertje Vos
On 9 September 2019, CBS managing director Marleen Verbruggen presented the first copy of ‘Nederland Handelsland’ (‘The Netherlands - a trading nation’, tr.) to Dutch Minister Sigrid Kaag of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation. The publication provides a bird’s eye view of major developments in the economy and foreign trade of the Netherlands.

Key figures

How much revenue is generated by foreign trade in the Netherlands? What is the role of our country in world trade? How should we look at the internationally active business community? What sort of goods and services are imported and exported? All these and more questions are answered in the first edition of ‘Nederland Handelsland’. Project leader Alex Lammertsma explains: “We’ve bundled the information we obtained from within CBS and from the EU’s statistical office Eurostat, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations (UN) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). In this publication we present important key figures on international trade in mutual coherence and in an accessible manner. For example by using visuals such as infographics. The basis for this publication consists of over 60 large statistical tables that serve as background information.”

Brexit and fragmented production processes

‘Nederland Handelsland’ will be updated annually. “This makes it easy to compare the key figures over the years,” says Lammertsma. “For example: how many companies in the Netherlands are engaged in exports, what kinds of companies, and how has this number developed?” Marjolijn Jaarsma, chief editor and researcher in this project: “We present the key figures, but we also highlight a range of topics. Current events such as Brexit and certain phenomena are discussed, for instance the fragmentation of international production processes. For example, cocoa beans which enter the country through the ports are processed into cocoa powder and cocoa butter here and then go on to Belgium to be used in chocolates or biscuits.” Lammertsma: “We can determine how much of our GDP is under pressure because of the increasing fragmentation of production processes.”

Evidence base for the trade agenda

The ‘Nederland Handelsland’ project is being financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. ‘We attach a great deal of importance to facts and figures for sound policy development,” says Peter Potman, Deputy Director-General of External Economic Relations at the Foreign Ministry. “This new publication provides a solid fact base that supports the Minister’s trade agenda. Once you know the facts, you will know how to act and in which way you can support the business sector. To cite an example: we know from previous CBS research that multinationals are the main driving force behind the exports to the Far East. The Far East is a growth market, so our trade policy is geared towards small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This is also the focus of our international trade missions.”

Policy monitoring

‘Nederland Handelsland’ will therefore serve as an evidence base to the existing trade policies and will also be the starting point for new policies to be developed. Potman: “This publication gives us a clear view of our economic interests and how international politics influence our trade flows. Furthermore, with this publication the Minister will be able to measure the effects of her policies and present that to the House of Representatives. The House is requesting that sort of information: ‘How effective are your policies?’ In this respect, CBS figures provide an objective measure, with CBS being a key institute, independent and reliable. To us, this makes the collaboration meaningful and attractive.”

Embassies and the private sector

“The publication can be found on the CBS website and is accessible for all,” says Jaarsma. “We will also be publishing an English language version later this year.” Aside from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there are other intended users. Potman: “The policies of other ministries such as Economic Affairs and Climate Policy are also related to trade flows and other international components. These ministries can equally benefit from sound and authoritative data on these matters. The Minister’s policies are implemented at the various Dutch embassies, who are in contact with the private sector. With this publication, they gain insight into the trade flows and the figures give them an indication of how much their efforts abroad are paying off. Finally, companies will gain more detailed insights such as where the main export markets and business opportunities are.”


In addition to the annual publication of ‘Nederland Handelsland’, the collaboration between Statistics Netherlands and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs extends to a joint research and development programme at the CBS expertise centre on globalisation. This has resulted in a quarterly publication entitled ‘Internationalisation Monitor’. Potman: “This collaboration can be seen as an investment in CBS that will promote research and accumulation of knowledge in the field of globalisation and international trade. More academic publications stem from this collaboration as well. Universities and other research institutes are able to strengthen their knowledge position by using these data and publications.”

“Universities and other research institutes are able to strengthen their knowledge position by using these data and publications”