Brexit: the impact for Dutch business

British prime minister Theresa May invoked Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, officially triggering the process of UK withdrawal from the European Union (“Brexit”). This process will last a maximum of two years, unless all the EU member states agree to an extension. For the next two years, then, the United Kingdom remains a member of the EU and all the EU treaties continue to apply.

Two key issues need to be negotiated during the pre-withdrawal period. The first is the so-called “divorce settlement”, covering such matters as outstanding British payments due to the EU, and the residence rights of EU citizens living in the UK (and vice versa). The second is the nature of the future trading relationship between the EU and the UK. It is far from certain that the two sides will be able to reach agreement on all relevant matters within the two years.

At some point in the next few months, the British government will table the so-called “Great Repeal Bill” in Parliament. This is intended to incorporate all existing EU legislation into UK law, thus avoiding regulatory gaps and so ensuring continuity for the business community. Once Brexit has actually taken place, the British government will be able to amend that legislation as it sees fit.

Because the UK is treading a path no-one has ever taken before, a lot of things remain unclear at this stage. Never before has a nation withdrawn from the EU. Brexit is therefore bound to instigate a long period of uncertainty. A new Scottish independence referendum would add an extra layer of uncertainty.

In this publication, Rabobank economists analyse the likely impact of Brexit for Dutch business.

The future trading relationship: four possibilities

The future trading relationship between the UK and the EU could take a number of forms. Broadly speaking, though, there are four possible models (see table 1): UK membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), full membership of the EU Customs Union, a new bilateral trade agreement or a so-called “hard” Brexit with no deal. At present, however, only the last two of these seem realistically likely, as Theresa May has effectively ruled out Britain staying in the European single market (making EEA membership impossible) and the Customs Union. This is because only then she can deliver upon the wishes in the UK to take back control on EU-immigration; to regain the freedom to negotiate bilateral trade agreements with non-EU countries; to end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice; to stop British contributions to the EU budget and to end regulation from Brussels. Because unhindered free trade between the UK and the EU would only be guaranteed by continuing British membership of the single market (the EEA model) and the Customs Union, the prospects in this respect look far from bright.

Table 1: Possible UK-EU relationships and their impact upon trade.

Click on the table for the PDF version
Source: Kalf and Prins (2017). Investing in Europe after Brexit, RaboResearch special report.

The UK is an important trading partner

Because the UK is an important trading partner for the Netherlands, Brexit is certain to impact Dutch businesses. Of total Dutch exports (in added value), 8 per cent are destined for the UK. They account for 2.3 per cent of Dutch GDP. And 11 per cent of all Dutch imports (in added value) come from the UK.

The sectors most dependent upon exports to Britain are mineral extraction, manufacturing and agriculture. Within manufacturing, firms in the leather, footwear and textiles industry and electrical and optical equipment are relatively heavily reliant upon demand from the UK. On the import side, mineral extraction and manufacturing are also the sectors most dependent upon British goods. A relatively high proportion of foreign direct investment (FDI) reflects the traditionally strong economic relationship between the two countries, too.

Click on the infographic for the PDF version

Harry Smit, Senior Analyst Farm Inputs & Farming

How the Brexit Will Impact Dutch Food & Agribusiness

The potential impact of the Brexit on food & agriculture companies in and outside the United Kingdom is huge. The UK is only 60 percent self-sufficient in terms of food, and is therefore a major net importer of F&A products. The Netherlands is one of the main suppliers of F&A products to the UK. The main products the Netherlands exports to the UK are:

Although we still do not know what the British trade agreements will look like after Brexit, the cost of exports will undoubtedly increase. Administrative checks at the border alone may lead to an extra charge of 5 percent to 8 percent. This is partly because F&A products are subject to veterinary and phytosanitary controls. Fresh products for which the UK has no alternative sources will, for the most part, most likely continue to be imported in the same manner. Dutch exporters might face increased competition from third countries in British markets. This may have a negative impact on Dutch exports of globally traded commodities, such as meat, dairy products, and sugar.

Rabobank’s report, Weighing up Future Food Security in the UK: The Impact of the Brexit on Food & Agribusiness in Europe and Beyond, explores three scenarios for future British trade policy, depending on the different levels of future tariffs. Furthermore, it provides insights into potential consequences for the separate product groups.

Future trade with the UK: harder and more expensive

The first of the realistically possible negotiation outcomes, in our view, is that the EU and the UK reach a bilateral trade agreement. But the content of any such deal remains highly uncertain, since the EU’s official negotiating position is not yet known. With respect to a rise in trade barriers, there is a variety of possible outcomes: tariffs on specific products, border controls, and customs procedures. The UK will try to retain wide-ranging access to the single market, but we believe it is unlikely that the EU will consent to this. That, after all, would mean the British “having their cake and eating it”: reaping the benefits of free trade with the rest of Europe, but without the costs and compromises of EU membership. Were it to concede to all Britain’s wishes on this front, the Union would risk encouraging other member states want to withdraw on similar terms and, in the worst-case scenario, face total collapse.

A “hard” Brexit refers to a situation in which the UK and the EU fail to reach an agreement on free trade during the withdrawal period. We believe this too is a realistic possibility – in which case cross-Channel trading relations would probably revert to WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules. These would entail the introduction of import tariffs, as well as driving up the cost of trade due to border controls and customs procedures. In both of the scenarios we deem realistic, Dutch companies doing business with the UK or with branches there will face increased barriers to trade.

Shifting trade: opportunities for Dutch and European business

As well threatening the Dutch economy and business community, Brexit could also offer opportunities for some companies in the Netherlands. Those supplying products and services currently imported into the EU from the UK, for instance. Greater barriers to trade will probably make importing from the UK more expensive after Brexit. This substantially improves the competitive position of Dutch and European companies on the continent. The principal opportunities here lie in business and financial services and in manufacturing industry, the EU sectors currently most dependent on imports from the UK.

Source: World Input-Output Database (2011 data), Rabobank.

In addition, the Netherlands is well placed to attract non-EU companies which currently use the UK as their gateway to Europe. For them, it is a logical and relatively appealing alternative thanks to Rotterdam’s status as Europe’s largest seaport, high-quality hub airport Amsterdam Schiphol, a good physical and digital infrastructure, a favourable geographical position and a well-educated, multilingual workforce. A recent research paper we have written shows that, based on a foreign direct investment (FDI) model, the Netherlands is ranked first in terms of attractiveness to foreign investors. As a Dutch bank operating globally, Rabobank is well-equipped to service firms that are considering the Netherlands as a base for their European operations. To access the research paper or receive more information about our services, please contact:

Casper Rodenberg 
+31 (30) 7122465
Maarten Beelen 
+31 (30) 7122497


Click on the infographic for the PDF version

Carlijn Prins, economist

Britain’s short-term economic outlook

The British economy grew strongly in the six months following the Brexit referendum, bolstered by consumer spending and, to a slighter extent, strong exports. In our view, however, the current high level of consumer expenditure is unsustainable and so will fall in 2017.

Reduced consumer confidence, due in part to the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, will encourage greater caution. Moreover, the sharp fall in the value of sterling against the currencies of the UK’s principal trading partners is fuelling inflation and so eating into disposable incomes. The pound may well depreciate even further if a hard Brexit becomes more likely. A weak pound is good for the economy in the short term, because it temporarily improves the competitive position of British exporters. But the uncertainties of Brexit and its impact upon trade and the economy will probably continue to suppress business investment this year. We predict UK economic growth of 1.7 per cent in 2017 and 1.8 per cent in 2018.

Brexit–steps to take and checklist

To help you determine how Brexit will affect your business, below we provide a four-point plan and a checklist.

Click on the infographic for the PDF version

Assess opportunities and threats

First, assess how closely entwined your business is with the UK and whether that is because you export, import or both. It is also important to establish how UK-dependent your supply chain is, both directly and indirectly. And do you have branches, subsidiaries or other interests in the UK?

In conducting your assessment, involve staff from various levels of the organisation that are likely to have the most practical understanding of what Brexit might mean for the company. In larger organisations it might be worth setting up a permanent “Brexit Task Force” bringing together people from, say, operations, marketing, purchasing, HR, strategy and communications. Staff with financial, legal and fiscal expertise could also make a valuable contribution. As well as the potential threats, consider the opportunities Brexit might bring you – for example, British competitors becoming less competitive in the EU marketplace. See the Brexit checklist below for specific points you should take into account at this stage.

Strategic plan: possible scenarios for the future UK-EU trading relationship

Draw up a strategic plan covering all the possible scenarios for the future UK-EU trading relationship (see table 1). In this, set out clearly what action you need to take to parry the threats and exploit the opportunities, and when.

For example, will trade barriers require you to adjust your pricing or your logistical chain? As well as the things you need to do, plan for Brexit’s likely impact upon those around you: your clients and prospects, suppliers, shareholders and competitors. The timing of your strategic actions will depend upon a number of factors. These might include the potential impact of Brexit on your business, the time needed to implement the proposed action (to set up a marketing campaign, say, to penetrate a new market) and the likelihood of the scenario it addresses and the nature of the trade barriers that situation puts in place (see table 1).

Monitor Brexit developments

Closely monitor the negotiations between the UK and the EU. As these progress towards the Brexit deadline, the probable outcome should become clearer and so you can disregard other alternatives.

Implement strategic plan

Implement the actions in your strategic plan. You may have to implement some actions before the final Brexit deal is known.. Preparatory activities, such as sounding out new markets or suppliers, can begin well in advance.

As it gradually becomes clearer what direction the talks are heading in, you can put more and more of your strategic actions into effect. So keep monitoring the Brexit.


Carlijn Prins
+31 (6) 19296455
Frits de Vries
Sector specialist Industry & High-tech
+31 (6) 53773859
Robbert van de Kar
International Desk Manager United Kingdom & Ireland
+44 (0) 7341736932

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