The limits of exports

Export flows will change in the coming years – and certainly those of agricultural products. ‘For the export of high-quality agricultural products far beyond Europe, there remains a future’ the Dutch Rabobank reports. ‘Exporters of many other agricultural products can better target countries within a radius of 800 kilometres around the Netherlands’ says the cooperative bank with a mission. But isn’t it always the case that only added-value products have a chance of success, whether far away or nearby?


For many agrifood-entrepreneurs, internationalisation is at the top of the ambition list. This was also evident during the workshop Export Growth Strategies that we were allowed to hold a few weeks ago at Kitchen Republic, a platform of food entrepreneurs in Amsterdam. To the question ‘Why do you want to export?’ came the answer: ‘We need volume to make our business profitable.’ These entrepreneurs often operate in a niche segment and quickly look for international opportunities. Because the Netherlands is simply too small to get concepts profitable. Because scaling up and seeking consumers beyond our borders is essential. Because sustainable concepts also require the search for potential in the right target group. A call tour of buyers in our international network confirms this: as long as you offer an added-value- concept – whatever that is – there is potential, no matter how far it is in geographical terms.

The Netherlands is an open country, as prime minister Rutte put it. That’s not going to change, not even because of corona, we can’t close the borders permanently. We are and remain connected to the rest of the world, where people live that are more like us than we sometimes realize. Internationalisation therefore remains important. But there are limits to the desirability of exports, as long as this is accompanied by increased CO2 emissions, polluting transport movements, environmental problems in the country of origin, unfair competition, you name it. Export flows will certainly change, but the end of exports is not coming. Because countries are not self-sufficient and too dependent on each other. Hopefully, exports will increasingly have a different role: from product transport to knowledge transfer. From dragging stuff around the world to producing more and more locally. The solutions for sustainability and climate issues lie in smarter innovation, in looking at how it can be done in a better way. Not in closing the borders, but in breaking down borders.


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