Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The Netherlands is the seventeenth largest economy in the world and the fifth largest in the European Union, with a gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019 of over USD 950 billion (810 billion euros). According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Netherlands is consistently among the three largest source and recipient economies for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the world, although the Netherlands is not the ultimate destination for the majority of this investment. Similarly, in its 2020 investment report, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) identified the Netherlands as the world’s fourth largest destination of global FDI inflows and the third largest source of FDI outflows.
The government of the Netherlands maintains liberal policies toward FDI, has established itself as a platform for third-country investment with some 145 investment agreements in force, and adheres to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Codes of Liberalization and Declaration on International Investment, including a National Treatment commitment and adherence to relevant guidelines.
The Netherlands is the recipient of eight percent of all FDI inflow into the EU. The Netherlands has become a key export platform and pan-regional distribution hub for U.S. firms. Roughly 60 percent of total U.S. foreign-affiliate sales in the Netherlands are exports, with the bulk of them going to other EU members. The nearly 3,000 U.S. owned corporations represent more than 20% of all foreign owned firms in the Netherlands and they create more than 200,000 jobs. Foreign owned firms operate predominantly in business services, wholesale, and retail sectors.
Although policy makers feared that Brexit would have an extremely negative impact on the Dutch economy, the Netherlands is benefitting from companies exiting the United Kingdom in search of an anchor location inside the EU Single Market. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) also relocated from London to Amsterdam. According to the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA), the number of companies interested in moving to or opening branches in the Netherlands because of Brexit increased from 80 in 2017 to 150 in 2018 to 250 in 2019. Approximately150 UK-based corporations are currently considering establishing a Dutch foothold in the European Union. The companies are mainly from the health, creative industry, financial services, and logistics sectors. The Dutch Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM) expects Amsterdam to emerge as a main post-Brexit financial trading center in Europe for automated trading platforms and other ‘fintech’ firms, as more of these companies cross the Channel to keep their European trading within the confines of the EU regulatory oversight.
Dutch tax authorities provide a high degree of customer service to foreign investors, seeking to provide transparent, precise tax guidance that makes long-term tax obligations more predictable. Advance Tax Rulings (ATR) and Advance Pricing Agreements (APA) are guarantees given by local tax inspectors regarding long-term tax commitments for a particular acquisition or greenfield investment. Dutch tax policy continues to evolve as the EU seeks to harmonize tax measures across member states. A more detailed description of Dutch tax policy for foreign investors can be found at https://investinholland.com/why-invest/incentives-taxes/ .
Dutch corporations and branches of foreign corporations are currently subject to a corporate tax rate of 25 percent on taxable profits, which puts the Netherlands in the middle third among EU countries’ corporate tax rates and below the tax rates of its larger neighbors. Profits up to USD 290,000 (245,000 euros) are taxed at a rate of 15 percent, this threshold will be raised to USD 470,000 (Euro 395,000) in 2022.
Dutch corporate taxation generally allows for exemption of dividends and capital gains derived from a foreign subsidiary. Surveys of the corporate tax structure of EU member states note that both the corporate tax rate and the effective corporate tax rate in the Netherlands are around the EU average. Nevertheless, the Dutch corporate tax structure ranks among the most competitive in Europe considering other beneficial measures such as the possibility for the tax authorities to provide corporations with clarity on future treatment of taxes via “advance” rulings and agreements such as ATR and/or APA. The Netherlands also has no branch profit tax and does not levy a withholding tax on interest and royalties.
Maintaining an investment-friendly reputation is a high priority for the Dutch government, which provides public information and institutional assistance to prospective investors through the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA) ( https://investinholland.com/ ). Historically, over a third of all “greenfield” FDI projects that NFIA attracts to the Netherlands originate from U.S. companies. Additionally, the Netherlands business gateway at https://business.gov.nl/ – maintained by the Dutch government – provides information on regulations, taxes, and investment incentives that apply to foreign investors in the Netherlands and clear guidance on establishing a business in the Netherlands. The NFIA maintains five regional offices in the United States (Washington, DC; Atlanta; Chicago; New York City; and San Francisco). The American Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands ( https://www.amcham.nl/ ) also promotes U.S. and Dutch business interests in the Netherlands.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
With few exceptions, the Netherlands does not discriminate between national and foreign individuals in the establishment and operation of private companies. The government has divested its complete ownership of many public utilities, but in a number of strategic sectors, private investment – including foreign investment – may be subject to limitations or conditions. These include transportation, energy, defense and security, finance, postal services, public broadcasting, and the media.
Air transport is governed by EU regulation and subject to the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement. U.S. nationals can invest in Dutch/European carriers as long as the airline remains majority-owned by EU governments or nationals from EU member states. Additionally, the EU and its member states reserve the right to limit U.S. investment in the voting equity of an EU airline on a reciprocal basis that the United States allows for foreign nationals in U.S. carriers.
In concert with the European Union, the Dutch government is considering how to best protect its economic security but also continue as one of the world’s most open economies. The Netherlands has foreign investment and procurement screening mechanisms in place for certain vital sectors that could present national security vulnerabilities. The first such laws (one on investment screening per EU directive and one on unwanted outside influence in the telecommunications sector) passed in 2020. The government is in the process of expanding screening measures to cover sensitive technologies more broadly, and a formal policy, which will apply retroactively as well, should be presented to Parliament for approval before summer 2021. Among policymakers, foreign investment and procurement screening is considered a non-partisan issue with support across the political spectrum. There is no requirement for Dutch nationals to have an equity stake in a Dutch registered company.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The Netherlands has not recently undergone an investment policy review by the OECD, World Trade Organization (WTO), or UNCTAD.
All companies must register with the Netherlands’ Chamber of Commerce and apply for a fiscal number with the tax administration, which allows expedited registration for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with fewer than 50 employees: https://www.kvk.nl/english/registration/foreign-company-registration/
The World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index ranks the Netherlands as number 24 in starting a business. The Netherlands ranks better than the OECD average on registration time, the number of procedures, and required minimum capital. The reports ranks the Netherlands first in terms of trading across borders, with zero costs and a small number of hours associated with border and documentary compliance, respectively.
The Netherlands business gateway at https://business.gov.nl/ – maintained by the Dutch government – provides a general checklist for starting a business in the Netherlands: https://business.gov.nl/starting-your-business/checklists-for-starting-a-business/how-to-start-a-business-in-the-netherlands-a-checklist/ .
The Dutch American Friendship Treaty (DAFT) from 1956 gives U.S. citizens preferential treatment to operate a business in the Netherlands, providing ease of establishment that most other non-EU nationals do not enjoy. U.S. entrepreneurs applying under the DAFT do not need to satisfy a strict, points-based test and do not have to meet pre-conditions related to providing an innovative product. U.S. entrepreneurs setting up a sole proprietorship only have to register with the Chamber of Commerce and demonstrate a minimum investment of 4,500 euros. DAFT entrepreneurs receive a two-year residence permit, with the possibility of renewal for five subsequent years.
In order to sustain the top ten ranking of the Netherlands among the world’s largest exporting nations, the Ministry for International Trade and Development coordinates with the government and private sector trade promotion agencies in setting an annual ‘overseas trade mission’ agenda. The Netherlands Enterprise Agency ( https://english.rvo.nl/ ) has the lead in organizing a custom-tailored and topical format of trade missions to accompany State visits and other official delegations abroad. Participation in these missions is open to any enterprise established in the Netherlands.