German exports and imports suffered their biggest drop since 1950 last year, as China officially overtook Germany to become the world's leading exporter.
Figures released Tuesday from Destatis, Germany's national statistics office, showed that Chinese exports amounted to 876.5 billion euros ($1.2 trillion) in 2009, with German exports dropping 18.4 percent to 803.2 billion euros. German imports totaled 667.1 billion euros, a 17.2 percent decrease.
Germany had held the title of global export leader since 2003, when it surpassed the United States.
Despite the drop, Europe's biggest economy showed its first year-on-year increase since the global economic crisis struck in the fall of 2008. Exports in December recorded their fourth consecutive monthly gain and were 3.4 percent higher than in December 2008, a sign that recovery is underway, according to economists.
"The trend in foreign trade is still clearly upwards and contributed positively to economic growth in the fourth quarter," said Simon Junker, an analyst at Commerzbank.
Growth predicted in 2010
The German economy shrank by 5 percent last year, but the government has predicted a growth of 1.4 percent in 2010. The country relies heavily on EU trade, which accounted for 62.7 percent of its exports last year.
"At least there is one reliable source of growth," said Carsten Brzeski, a senior economist at ING. Though the recovery may have slowed late last year, Brzeski stressed the overall picture was more positive than it seemed.
"Today's numbers highlight once again that the German economy can almost always rely on a helping hand from the export sector," said Brzeski. "The road might be bumpy but it is the road to recovery and not a dead-end street."
Editor: Rob Turner