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Working on the land - 21st century style

EU expansion boosted Dutch exports

RobK(Photo: Werktuigendagen)

Dutch agricultural exports to ten Central and East European countries have quadrupled since they joined the EU in 2004. Exports to Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus an Malta have risen to 4 billion euros in 20, from 1 billion in 2003. In the other direction, imports from the new EU member states to the Netherlands also mushroomed from 0.5 billion to 2 billion euros.

Agricultural economist Siemen van Berkum of Wageningen University, talking to online journal Nieuwe Oogst (New Harvest) journal concluded that these figures prove that "the Netherlands have profited considerably from the EU expansion". The strong points of the Dutch, according to Van Berkum, are exports of dairy produce, cattle fodder and horticultural products, while imports from the ten new EU countries consist mainly of veal, cereals and tobacco.

Siemen van Berkum said that the Dutch agricultural sector has mainly benefited from the EU expansion because the ten new Central and East European member states are strongly focused on agriculture, which is conducive to co-operation. In the animal fodder sector, for instance, the proces cuts both ways, he said. The Netherlands has a couple of strong players in the fodder industry, according to Van Berkum, who import proteine components from Central and Eastern Europe for use in their products. The end products are exported back to "the countries of origin".

But there has also been a negative impact. Dutch mushroom cultivation in particular has suffered from the increased competition. "Low labour costs in Poland have caused this labour-intensive branch to shrink in the Netherlands over the past ten years, while it grew in Poland," Van Berkum observed.

These developments in mushroom cultivation are remarkable, the Wageningen University researcher said, because it coincided with the benefits that the Netherlands got out of hiring cheap East European labour over the past few years. "Without Polish workers, the agricultural sector would have faced major problems," Siemen van Berkum concluded in the Nieuwe Oogst journal. - (IEDE)

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