Netherlands is EU’s largest beer exporter, Belgium exports the most fries

© CBS / Nikki van Toorn
Both the Netherlands and Belgium are major exporters of beer, frozen potato products (particularly potato fries) and chocolate. The Netherlands is also a major consumer of typically Belgian food products. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reports this in connection with the publication of its Internationalisation Monitor, which this year focuses on Belgium.

The Netherlands is the European Union's largest exporter of beer (export value: 2 billion euros in 2023), followed closely by Belgium (at 1.7 billion euros). When it comes to frozen potato products, Belgium is the EU’s leading exporter (export value: 3.4 billion euros) and the Netherlands is second (1.6 billion euros). The biggest exporter of chocolate in the EU is neither Belgium (in second place with 3.7 billion euros in exports) nor the Netherlands (in fourth place with 2.5 billion euros), but Germany (with 5.8 billion euros).

Top 5 exporters in the EU, including quasi transit trade, 2023
ProductExport value (mld euro)
Frozen potato products
Chocolate and other
cocao products
Source: CBS, Eurostat

Most Dutch beer is exported to the United States, while Belgian beer is exported primarily to France and the Netherlands. Belgian potato fries are common in both the United Kingdom and France, while Dutch fries are the most popular in the United Kingdom. Belgian chocolate is the most popular in the Netherlands, while Dutch chocolate is popular in Germany.

Export value of Belgian potato fries has more than doubled in past two years

The export value of Belgian frozen potato products (around four-fifths of which are potato fries) has more than doubled since 2021. This is because the quantity produced has gone up by 12 percent (due partly to new production facilities, including some owned by Dutch companies), while export prices have also nearly doubled. The quantity of frozen potato products exported by the Netherlands actually fell by 5 percent during this period. Until 2018, the Netherlands’ export value consistently exceeded that of Belgium, but since then the gap with Belgium has widened steadily. In absolute terms, Belgian exports of potato fries to neighbouring countries have grown the fastest, but in percentage terms exports to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Australia and South Africa have grown even faster.

Export value of frozen potato products, including quasi transit trade
 Belgium (bn euros)Netherlands (bn euros)
Source: CBS, Eurostat

Dutch beer exports have surpassed Belgium’s for decades

When it comes to beer, the Netherlands has been exporting more than Belgium ever since the comparison was first made in 1988. However, Dutch beer’s lead over Belgian beer has been narrowing more recently. In recent years, sales of Dutch beer to France, South Africa and Paraguay have been on the rise.

Belgium overtook the Netherlands as an exporter of chocolate in 1991, and has exported more chocolate than the Netherlands every year since. In recent years, Belgian exports of chocolate to the Netherlands have grown the fastest; meanwhile, Dutch chocolate exports to Germany have increased the most.

Belgium is the Netherlands’ main supplier of chocolate and beer

A total of 38 percent of all chocolate imports into the Netherlands come from Belgium (total value: 459 million euros). In the category of vegetables and root vegetables (which includes potatoes and potato products), over one third (35 percent) of imports into the Netherlands come from Belgium. When it comes to alcoholic beverages, 19 percent of imports into the Netherlands come from Belgium. By far the most important product in this category, with a share of 58 percent, is beer.

The Netherlands imported food and beverages with a total value of 44.6 billion euros in the first three quarters of 2023, 7.0 billion euros (16 percent) of which came from Belgium. Only Germany had a larger share, at 8.8 billion euros.

Internationalisation Monitor on Belgium

In the latest edition of the Internationalisation Monitor, CBS shines a spotlight the Belgian economy, focusing on trade relations between the Netherlands and Belgium. Where do these two countries stand when it comes to innovation, digitisation and sustainability? The Internationalisation Monitor also looks at the interconnectedness of the two countries in global value chains, as well as labour markets and cross-border commuting between the two countries.