Rotterdam stands head and shoulders above other European centres of trade as the continent’s biggest and busiest port – with excellent air and land access as well. Its international outlook is built on centuries of tradition as a trading hotspot.
“Rotterdam emerged as a trade hub thanks to its strategic location with easy access to the Rhine on the North Sea,” says Max van Rijssel, partner at Grant Thornton in the Netherlands. “It really is a gateway to Europe. As well as a huge, deepwater port, it is linked to a network of roads, railways and rivers, which means that the major European markets of France, Germany and Belgium – not to mention the UK – are within easy reach. This development has been possible because large ships – up to a depth of 23 metres – have access to the port, with no locks or bridges to navigate.”
Rotterdam’s port is in a process of constant enlargement, with land being reclaimed from the sea to create new terminals. “These new terminals operate with the most modern electrical equipment and help strengthen the city’s position as a global trade hub” Van Rijssel adds.
In addition, there is also a strong petrochemical industry presence with the likes of Shell and Exxon. “We also have a number of shipbuilders active here, and there is a lot of specialised knowledge in process engineering and energy transition.” This latter area is of key importance to Rotterdam, given the environmental impact of some of the heavy industry supported by the city.
A truly international city
Van Rijssel points out that Rotterdam’s history as a trading centre means it has a very international outlook, with a highly capable and very cosmopolitan population. “The city’s inhabitants are well trained and have excellent language skills,” he says, citing the large number of universities and research institutions in the area. “We also have a culture of working hard – there is a saying: in Rotterdam we don’t talk, we just do it.”
Rotterdam is a very modern city, largely because it had to be rebuilt after being bombed during the Second World War. “But now it is firmly on the tourist trail with excellent pubs, restaurants and nightlife, as well as architecture.”
A welcoming tax and customs regime
The city’s excellent logistics are supported by a favourable tax regime for both businesses and individuals, says Theo Ostermann, partner at Grant Thornton in Rotterdam. “Generally speaking, the Netherlands has a favourable tax system with competitive corporate tax rates,” he says. “We have a broad participation exemption for dividends on qualifying shareholdings and an extensive network of bilateral tax treaties. On top of that, it is very straightforward to contact the authorities to apply for tax rulings or to discuss tax treatment.”
Ostermann points out also that the Netherlands has delayed the introduction of EU rules that will prevent non-EU businesses from acting as exporters of record for customs declarations.
“From the perspective of expats, we have a law known as the 30% ruling, so if skilled workers come here, 30% of their salaries can be paid out without taxation,” he says.
“In addition, Rotterdam is always actively looking for opportunities in other jurisdictions to attract new businesses. There are numerous trade missions run by the city as well as the national government. Rotterdam Partners is an organisation set up by the local authority, which can help international businesses find out more about the city’s welcoming business environment.”
Gateway to Europe and the world
For companies looking to do business throughout Europe, Rotterdam is an obvious choice given its pre-eminence as a trading hub, as well as its beneficial tax and export rules, and its highly-skilled, cosmopolitan workforce.
Rotterdam’s trading history and excellent links make it the ideal gateway for companies looking to expand into European markets. To find out more about establishing your business here, contact Max van Rijssel, partner at Grant Thornton in the Netherlands.
Rotterdam quick facts
- Location: The Netherlands
- Time zone: Central European Time GMT +01:00
- Population: 2.3 million (Rotterdam-The Hague metro area)
- GDP: $188 billion (metro area) 
- Industrial strengths: Logistics, shipbuilding, petrochemicals
- Growth sectors: Energy transition
- Regional access: Amsterdam 30 minutes by train; London 1 hour by air; Paris 1 hour 15 minutes; Berlin 1 hour 30 minutes; Milan 1 hour 55 minutes.