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Record trade surplusFor much of the 20th century, the Netherlands was structurally importing more than it exported. A persistent trade deficit reversed to an increasingly large trade surplus during the 1980s. By 2017, the trade surplus was higher than ever: 57 billion euros. Outside the EU, the Netherlands had a 52 billion euro deficit last year; within the EU, a surplus was generated to a value of 109 billion euros. A significant share of goods which are imported from overseas is re-exported to other EU countries. As a result, the past century has seen the Netherlands rise to the top ten largest exporting countries in the world.
Imports up due to more machinery and transport vehicles
Machinery and transport vehicles have represented a growing share in Dutch imports over the past one hundred years. In contrast to this growth was the declining importance of manufactured items such as iron and steel, metal (products), instruments and apparatus, clothing and footwear.
Currently, around 30 percent of all imported goods enter the production process. They are partly used in the production of consumer goods which are sold on the domestic and international markets; other goods which are imported by companies are used as capital goods. Approximately 8 percent of imported goods is for direct consumption while 6 percent is used by companies for investment. The remainder of imports leaves the country again as re-exports in virtually the same form as when they entered the Netherlands.
China and Japan
Just after the turn of the century, China overtook Japan as the largest supplier of goods from Asia. China was able to benefit fully from the relocation of production units to the country by Western companies. Almost at the same time, the growth in imports from Japan came to a standstill. Chinese exports to the Netherlands were pushed up mainly by increasing quantities of machinery and transport vehicles, exported to the European continent via the Netherlands.
Export share of machinery has grown considerably
At the beginning of the last century, Dutch exports were dominated by agricultural goods. Over 40 percent of exports were food products. Nowadays, food products represent 15 percent of total exports from the Netherlands. The Netherlands is earning substantially from exports of mineral fuels, chemical products en machinery and transport vehicles. The export interest of machinery and transport vehicles increased from 5 percent in 1920 to 28 percent in 2017.
Asia increasingly important for exports
One century ago, 15 percent of Dutch exports went to countries outside Europe; at present, nearly one in every four euros in export value is generated there. Asia in particular is becoming an increasingly important trading area. Asia’s share in Dutch exports amounted to 9 percent in 2012; this is now more than 11 percent of the total export package. In the same period, exports to Africa and America declined by 0.6 and 0.4 percentage point, respectively.