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Results — Evaluation of the international trade and investment policy of the Netherlands

IOB has evaluated the Dutch trade and investment policy issues and positions for the period 2013-2019. The evaluation provides insights on how these were integrated in the European and international trade and investment policies.

The report presents an in-depth analysis of the policy issues concerning:

  • trade defence instruments;
  • sustainable development chapters in free trade agreements;
  • the Trade in Services Agreement;
  • investor protection, investor duties, and dispute settlement;
  • and Economic Partnership Agreements with African countries.


The Netherlands has benefited greatly from free trade, and foreign direct investments account for a large share of the Dutch economy. Private trade and investment flows are influenced by government policy and European and international rules. There are many external factors that influence trade and investment policy making, both economic and social or geopolitical factors. Moreover the Netherlands does not set trade policy – and investment policy to a large extent – by itself. Trade is an exclusive EU competence, where the European Commission (EC) prepares proposals and negotiating positions and speaks on behalf of the European Union (EU), including the Netherlands, in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and in negotiations on free trade and investment agreements with third countries.

In 2013, a new Dutch policy for aid, trade and investment was introduced, with three aims: (1) the eradication of extreme poverty; (2) sustainable, inclusive growth all over the world; and (3) success for Dutch companies abroad. Topics such as gender equality and responsible business conduct were identified as cross-cutting priorities. For trade and investment policy, four specific objectives were set: (1) concluding EU free trade agreements; (2) the internationalisation of the Dutch private sector; (3) attracting foreign direct investment to the Netherlands; and (4) the protection of Dutch investments abroad.

This study reviews trade and investment policy from 2013 until 2019, complemented with important developments that have taken place since 2019. It assesses:

  • which policy issues the Netherlands prioritised and why;
  • how policy positions were established;
  • and whether and how the Netherlands contributed to the international agenda and to decision making on trade and investment agreements, in the context of the EU and WTO.

Additionally, IOB has commissioned Ecorys to conduct a research on the external developments and factors that influence trade and investment policy making.

General conclusions and recommendations

Besides the individual conclusions and recommendations identified in the case studies, the case studies, policy reconstruction and interviews also identified three specific, overarching observations and areas for improvement. These overarching observations relate to policy coherence, Dutch policy success in the EU, and capacity, and are the following:

Findings from the five case studies

The case studies have shown mixed results regarding the level of success of the Netherlands. On some (intermediate) policy issues the Netherlands successfully contributed to the agenda, and sometimes even policy making. However, there were also policy issues where the Netherlands was not successful in setting the agenda and/or policy making. Additionally, some successes have not yet been put in practice or were achieved together with other member states, and are therefore difficult to fully attribute to the Netherlands.

Policy review

This evaluation of trade and investment policy is a building block for the policy review of the BHOS budget article 1, on Dutch aid and trade policies more broadly. The policy review (in Dutch) can he found here.