Friday 25 May 2018

Go Dutch for big returns in the low-lying land of the giants

Paul Barreveld is an Enterprise Ireland Market Advisor in the Benelux region based in Amsterdam
Paul Barreveld is an Enterprise Ireland Market Advisor in the Benelux region based in Amsterdam

Paul Barreveld

The Netherlands and Ireland have a lot in common. Both are geographically small Eurozone countries that have overcome relatively low levels of mineral wealth to operate advanced, open economies with world-leading levels of Foreign Direct Investment and agricultural output.

Both countries could also lay claim to being the land of the giants. While the basis for Ireland's assertion is mythical, the Dutch can make this claim for real. The average height for males is 6ft, the tallest in the world. At an average of 5ft 6in, Dutch women are the second tallest females in the world.

With so much in common and close geographic proximity, it should come as no surprise to discover that the Netherlands is Ireland's seventh biggest export market.

It may seem ironic for a country that is the second largest food exporter in the world, but one of its biggest imports from Ireland is meat and dairy. However some 30pc of Irish sales here are medtech, hi-tech instruments, with machinery and IT equipment also featuring strongly.

Enterprise Ireland clients are even more embedded in this market than the wider Irish business community recording over €950m in sales last year with non-food exports accounting for €339m, making the Netherlands our clients' third largest export market. Other top sectoral exports include construction, engineering, software, life sciences and agricultural technology.

Many Irish exporters have established a presence here, sometimes through acquisition or joint ventures. In construction, Kingspan, and in electronics, Nualight have made acquisitions while companies such as Ventac, DPS Engineering, Forest Produce, CRH and Openmind Networks are among the many who have established a presence on the ground.

For many centuries the Netherlands has been a centre for world trade and it remains so today. Rotterdam is Europe's largest port, and Schiphol is the world's fifth busiest airport for international passengers and the world's 16th busiest for cargo tonnage, making the Netherlands a key logistics hub for the through-transportation of goods.

The business culture here is direct and early-adopting which makes for shorter sale cycles, reducing client risk. The Dutch are number two in the world for English proficiency and the business environment is SME-friendly providing an excellent first-step onto mainland Europe for exporters to the rest of Europe and beyond.

The Netherlands' economy has experienced a modest recovery driven by consumer activity and increased investment in recent years with growth forecast at a little over 2pc this year and next.

In its strategic development plan, the government has identified nine sectors of focus in terms of policy and investment, all of which are a good fit for Irish capability. Agri-food, water, ICT, energy, life sciences and health are among the top opportunities for Irish sales.

There is also potential in Construction with significant investment planned in greenfield and refurbishment projects by pharma companies such as Abbott, Genzyme, Astellas, Teva and MSD. Google and Microsoft are planning data centres and large projects in food processing are in the offing by companies such as Arla Foods, Danone and FrieslandCampina.

Many of the multinationals in Ireland also have a presence here. Considered one of the most wired countries in the world, the Netherlands is Europe's hotspot for ICT and one of the most advanced countries in Europe for E-commerce.

Some 60pc of all Forbes 2000 companies active in the IT industry have established operations in the Netherlands. Cisco, Interxion, Infosys, Huawei, Oracle, Intel, IBM, and Verizon all have a significant presence.

The Netherlands is also a hotspot for the gaming industry. Considering the mutual familiarity, Irish firms really should consider coming to play with the big boys and girls.

Paul Barreveld is an Enterprise Ireland Market Advisor in the Benelux region based in Amsterdam

Sunday Indo Business

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business