Germany is uniquely connected to the world. Its foreign trade is a central foundation of growth, competitiveness, and employment. About one in four German jobs depends on exports.
Strong dependency on global growth led to a particularly sharp recession in Germany in the course of the 2007 – 2009 financial and economic crisis (2009: -5.6 percent). But a rapid recovery in the emerging economies and developing countries and particularly strong demand from China ensured that Germany – in contrast to most other EU member states – was already recording positive growth again by 2010 (2015: 1.4 percent).
German exports by region: EU most important destination with 58.1 percent
Merchandise exports, 2015 (total value €1,195.8 billion)
United States biggest customer for German exports
The five most important destinations for exports, 2015 (merchandise exports, billion euros)
The ratio of foreign trade to GDP underlines its importance for Germany. The figure has risen from 48 percent in 1991 to 86 percent in 2015. In 2015, Germany exported goods worth more than €1.2 trillion. Germany’s ratio of exports of goods and services to GDP was 46.9 percent in 2015. In 2015 almost two-thirds of German merchandise exports (58.1 percent) went to other members of the European Union, underlining the continuing centrality of that market for Germany.
German imports by region: EU most important supplier with 65.6 percent
Merchandise imports, 2015 (total value €948.1 billion)
China biggest supplier of German imports
The five most important sources of imports, 2015 (merchandise imports, billion euros)
Imports are also important for Germany. The ratio of imports to GDP was 39.1 percent in 2015. That makes Germany both one of the world’s largest exporters and Europe’s biggest importer. Like exports, almost two-thirds of German imports (56.6 percent) come from other EU countries.
Germany exports more than it consumes. For years Germany has run one of the world’s largest trade surpluses (goods and services). The export surplus in goods in 2015 was €247.8 billion, or 7.7 percent of GDP. In relation to the other 27 EU member states the figure was €72.3 billion, of which the Eurozone accounted for €8.5 billion. Germany’s largest single surplus was with the United States (€54.6 billion).
The EU is particularly important for Germany’s foreign trade. Only three of Germany’s ten most important trading partners in goods lie outside the Union: the United States, China, and Switzerland. That said, the United States was the biggest single importer of German goods in 2015 (€114 billion or 9.5 percent of total exports). The second-largest export market was neighbouring France (€113.9 billion or 8.6 percent). On the import side Germany’s most important partner is China (€91.5 billion or 9.7 percent), followed by the Netherlands (€88.1 billion or 9.3 percent).
German exports: vehicles, machinery, and electrical equipment
German exports by product group (percentage of total exports 2015)
Vehicles, machinery, and electrical equipment make up more than half of German exports. German industry is specialized in the production of capital goods. It was therefore able to benefit above average from the strong investment activity in Central and Eastern Europe and in the emerging Asian economies, especially China. Germany imports mainly electrical equipment, vehicles, energy, and raw materials.
German imports: electrical equipment, vehicles, energy, and raw materials
German imports by product group (percentage of total imports 2015)
German industry’s outward orientation is a consequence of the country’s economic and locational advantages. Germany has a large highly-skilled labour force, great innovative capacity, and a highly developed infrastructure. The reductions in trade and information costs and liberalisation of world trade that have occurred over the past decades have improved the possibilities for German companies to place their products on global markets. Germany correspondingly exports many manufactured goods such as vehicles, electrical equipment, chemicals, and machinery. Imports are predominantly the precursors and raw materials required for production processes.