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Import regulations and customs duties  - Distribution - Transportation of goods - Standards - Patents and brands

Import regulations and customs duties

In accordance with its European Union membership, the Netherlands apply the European Union (EU) rules that are in force in all European Union countries. While the EU has a rather liberal foreign trade policy, there is a certain number of restrictions, especially on farm products, following the implementation of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy): the application of compensations on import and export of farm products, aimed at favouring the development of agriculture within the EU, implies a certain number of control and regulation systems for the goods entering the EU territory.
Moreover, for sanitary reasons, regarding Genetically Modified Organisms (after being allowed in the European territory), their presence should be systematically specified on packaging. Beef cattle bred on hormones is also forbidden to import.
The BSE crisis (often called the "mad cow disease") urged the European Authorities to strengthen the phytosanitary measures to make sure of the quality of meats entering and circulating in the EU territory. The principle of precaution is now widespread: in case of doubt, the import is prohibited until proof is made of the non-harmfullness of products.


Customs duties
Since the first of January 1993, the European Union, of which the Netherlands is part, has been a single market, without any customs barriers, which ensures free circulation of goods. On May, 1st of 2004, ten "candidate countries" became new members of the European Union: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia. Trade within the European Union is totally free from customs duties, provided that the country of origin of the goods is one of the 25 European Union Member States. Nevertheless, when introducing merchandises into the Netherlands, exporters shall fill in an intrastat declaration.

When the country of origin of the goods which are exported to the Netherlands is not part of the European Union, customs duties are calculated Ad valorem on the CIF value of the goods, in accordance with the Common Customs Tariff (CCT).

The duties for non-European countries are relatively low, especially for manufactured goods (4.2% on average for the general rate), however textile, clothing items (high duties and quota system) and food-processing industry sectors (average duties of a 17.3% and numerous tariff quotas, PAC) still know protective measures.
In order to get exhaustive regulations and customs tariffs rates regarding their products, exporters shall refer to the TARIC code and its database, which includes all applicable customs duties and all customs trade policy measures for all the goods.

Moreover, many bilateral and multilateral agreements have been signed by the European Union, in order to define specific customs duties with the following countries:

- Customs-EU-EFTA (European Free Trade Association) Agreement was signed in 1972 with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

- Free trade agreements with Bulgaria and Romania that hope joining the European Union in 2007.

- Mediterranean Agreements, concerning: Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria.

- The ACP agreements, with 95% of the tariff lines with a 0% rate for developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean Islands and Pacific. The Cotonou Agreement, signed in the year 2000, defines the new EU-ACP partnership.

- The Generalised System of Preferences (GSP): 54% of the tariff lines are at 0% for developing countries outside the ACP framework.

To get an exhaustive list of the foreign trade agreements of the European Union, click here.

>> To get further information on customs policies in the European Union, please check the exhaustive report by the European Commission.


Import taxes
Excise duties are also levied on certain products, especially on spirit.

>> To get further information on VAT rates in the Netherlands, please check the list of vat rates applied within European Union .

>> More detailed information on excise duties is available concerning alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, energy products on the European Commission website.



One of the biggest assets of the Netherlands is its harbour zone. It is a country with a high level of purchasing power and its market is very open to competition as there are very few national industries to be protected. On the other hand, the Netherlands is known for being attracted to its neighbourhood stores and having developed its unique cultural identity. In 2004, retail trade was valued at 79.2 billion euros, a decline of 2.1% over 2003.

The Business to Consumer (B to C) market
The distribution market in the Netherlands is comparable to that of other European countries. Its principal feature is that it is dominated by big groups like Ahold which controls 42% of the food distribution market, followed by Laurus which holds 17% (the Laurus brand is on the verge of disappearing which is benefiting the French brand Casino which today owns 38.7% of Laurus). Despite the development of large supermarkets, Dutch consumers continue to prefer neighbourhood stores which allows small supermarkets and specialised stores to retain a considerable share in the Dutch distribution market.
The discount market is also growing; increasing from 10% in 2003 to 13% in 2004.
In the non-food sector, international and Dutch brands co-exist and all of them are well established. In the textile sector there is C&A, Vendex KKB, and in the furnishing sector Blokker is a national brand.

The Business to Business (B to B) market
In 2004, Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) considerably decreased compared to 2003, (the inflow of FDIs decreased from 18.9 billion euros in 2003 to –1.5 billion euros in 2004). The Netherlands has traditionally attracted a large number of foreign investors but this attraction has been on the decline since 2000 due to high taxes imposed on companies and also due to increasing labour costs. Thus, l'IMD (International Institute for Management Development) ranked Holland in 15th position whereas in the year 2000 it enjoyed 4th position. However, the government has decided to take necessary measures to facilitate the setting up of value-added industries in the country.

The preferred sectors for investment are those that have been recently liberalized in conformity with European legislation. Thus, sectors like energy, postal services, and telecommunications are among those where most foreign investments are being made. For example, the company E-On (of German origin and operating in the energy sector) acquired the commercial activities of the regional company NRE.
The principal economic & commercial zone is in the western part of the country (Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam and the Hague) which has 75% of the country’s population. Distribution is often done through agents and large importers/distributors. The Dutch market is very competitive and ‘price’ is the determining factor for importers who often demand exclusivity on product distribution from manufacturers. Importer-distributors are very specialized, segmented into a large number of markets niches.
The most important exhibitions take place in Amsterdam (ROAI), Utrecht (Jaarbeurs) and Maastricht (MECC).
There are also permanent exhibition centres which allow the various players in an industry to meet ( agents, importers, suppliers have show rooms to greet their clients). It is essential to participate in these show room activities as Dutch entrepreneurs are often wary of new suppliers.


Transportation of goods

By road
The country's modern and vast road network, consists of 105,817 km, out of which 56,331 km are provincial roads and 2,134 km are highways. The road capacity sometimes remains insufficient given the traffic density, resulting in traffic jams. The Ministry in charge of Transport and traffic, Telecoms, and the management of Water and Aviation (Ministry of transport, Public Works and Water Management), has planned a certain number of investments for the improvement of road infrastructures, such as the "Bereikbaarheidsoffensief project". This project will make it possible for four big cities to be better served thanks to the introduction of toll roads, on a trial basis.

By rail
The rail network has a 2,757 km length, out of which 1,991 is electrified. The national company is NS Reizigers. Under a 9-year contract with the State, with mid-private and mid-public collaboration, the company undertakes to provide better performance during rush hours as well as maintain punctuality.
Passenger traffic has been increasing continuously since 1985, while goods transport has decreased because of the competition with road transport. In 1993, railways transported 4.79 million tons of goods. The government is now planning to take certain measures for the creation of a fast rail link between the four big cities.

By sea
Rotterdam is the first port of Europe and one of the most important in the world: in 1998, it handled 315 million tons of goods. This is set to reach an estimated 480 million by 2020. Furthermore, the Netherlands have an internal network of waterways covering 5,046 km, which handle a considerable volume of goods. The other important port is Amsterdam. In 1997 transport by inland waterway represented only 19% of the goods traffic on the domestic market as compared to 64% on the international market which demonstrates the enormous potential to be exploited at the national level. In general, the government's goal is to promote sea transport rather than road transport.

By air
The main airports of the country are Amsterdam : Schiphol, Rotterdam and Eindhoven. Schipol's airport is the 4th most important in Europe in terms of passengers number and goods volume. With 1,225,284 tons handled in 1998, it is 5% more as compared to the previous year. Its capacity should double before 2010. A governmental report concerning Schipphol's privatisation is also being elaborated. The main Dutch company is KLM, in which the Dutch State has a minority participation. Its freight activity is very important for KLM which serves a large number of destinations. "


The Dutch Institute of Standardisation (NNI), works in association with the Dutch electrotechnical comittee (NEC) for the standardisation of products.
Optional certifications are managed by the Dutch council for Certification (Stichting Rad Voor De Certificatie), which controls the goods.
Netherlands ratified the GATT agreements, during Tokyo Round.
The product quality is maintained by observance of ISO 9000.

Patents and brands

The body responsible for the protection of intellectual property in the Netherlands is the Office to voor of Industriële Eigendom.
Netherlands signed the agreement of Paris concerning the protection of industrial property and the agreement which establishes the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Concerning patents, the Netherlands ratified the agreement of Munich for European patents, as well as the treaty of co-operation in patents. Further, one of two headquarters of the European Office of Patents is in Netherlands.
As for the specific question of brands, Netherlands signed the agreement of Madrid.

Texts currently applying to patents/brands

  Text Date entered into law Period of validity Comment
Patent Patents Act of the Kingdom 1995 December 13, 1994 : :
Trademark Uniform Benelux Law on Marks December 2, 1992 10 years, renewable for further 10-year periods :
Design Uniform Benelux Designs Law 1974 : :


Last modified in 2006 - ongoing update
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