Policy rule on the quality requirements for fuels intended for export to low and middle income countries

Fuels produced in the Netherlands that are intended for use by road traffic in Europe (i.e., including the Netherlands) have to meet strict requirements to prevent excessive air pollution. A significant share of the fuels produced are exported to low and middle income countries outside Europe. These fuels, too, must be of sufficient quality. The Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) therefore introduced a policy rule, which has entered into force on 15 August 2022 and which sets benzene, sulphur, and manganese requirements.

Cleaner fuel in West Africa

Ever since late May in 2023, all companies operating from the Netherlands comply with the policy rule. This means that the motor fuels exported to low and middle income countries are of a more environmentally sound quality. The sulphur, benzene, and manganese additive contents have significantly decreased compared to the situation before 15 August 2022.

Fuels of an improved quality are now more often being used in low and middle income countries. This has a positive effect on humans and the environment. Together with Belgium, the Netherlands is the largest producer and exporter of fuels (petrol) for use by road traffic in West African countries in the world. Over half of all petrol imported into West Africa originates from the ARA (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp) zone. This means that this measure by the ILT has a major impact.

Level playing field

After the Netherlands started consultations in the context of the Benelux Union about the implementation of similar measures, the Belgian government in November 2023 announced it was preparing a Royal Decree. This is very important, as a study by the ILT, conducted a year after the introduction of the policy rule, shows that a shift to Belgium is taking place. Positive developments are also visible among the importing countries. The ILT will continue to monitor the market and help the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management to realise a level playing field, from now on in cooperation with Belgium. Improving the quality of these fuels also contributes to the active role the Netherlands wishes to play on the international stage with respect to the energy transition and climate policy.

Supervision and enforcement

The ILT expects companies to take their social responsibility as producers. However, the ILT still receives signals that some companies evade the policy rule by producing low-quality fuels in other countries and/or by blending fuels at sea. The ILT investigates such signals whenever possible and takes enforcement action in case of violations.

Following the publication of the policy rule, the ILT started closely monitoring compliance with this rule by oil companies and traders. It set up its supervision activities in accordance with the National Enforcement Strategy (NES). Earlier in 2023, the ILT for example found that one oil trader deliberately produced petrol batches with excessively high benzene contents and shared information about the case with the Public Prosecution Service. The ILT can inter alia impose a penalty subject to a fine on companies that fail to properly comply with their duty of care. It can also initiate criminal proceedings.

In addition, the ILT has informed Dutch and foreign banks that have clients active in the industry about the policy rule. Banks must, in the framework of the anti-money laundering policy, ensure that they do not fund activities contrary to regulations, including the policy rule under the Dutch Environmental Management Act.