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Germany's 2020 exports slumped 9.3%

February 9, 2021

German trade was was hit hard last year by the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Decreases in exports and imports were the sharpest recorded since the world's 2009 financial crisis.

Fabricating giant hydroelectric blade-turbine at Heidenheim, near Ulm.
Despite its 2020 export-import dip, Germany's engineering-driven economy still enjoys a trade surplus Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Puchner

Germany's exports and imports slumped by 9.3% and 7.1% respectively during 2020, concluded the federal statistics office Destatis on Tuesday.

The figures are in comparison to data from 2019, showing the stark impact of the coronavirus pandemic on international trade.

Exports of goods and services totaled €1,204.7 billion ($1,450.5 billion). Imports to Germany totaled €1,025.6, with the heftiest hits occurring in March and April 2020 when the pandemic began to disrupt supply chains.

Both decreases in exports and imports were the "largest" experienced by Germany since the global financial and economic crisis of 2009, said Destatis.

Eleven years ago, exports slumped 18.4% and imports 17.5%

Foreign trade surplus upheld

Despite the challenges of 2020, Germany  still maintained its typical foreign trade surplus — where exports exceeded imports.

For the total year, however, the surplus fell for a fourth year in a row, amounting to €179 billion.

The figure is still up compared to Germany's shrunken surplus of 2011, when it stood at €158.7 billion — but comes in much lower than in 2019, when Germany's foreign trade balance was €224 billion in plus.

From its export perspective, Germany's most important trading partners were the United States followed by China and then France.

The US took €103.8 billion of German goods and services — a 12.5% decline on 2019 — and to China Germany exported €95.9 billion — at -0.1% for 2020, hardly unchanged over the level in 2019.

As for imports, Germany took in the most goods from China, followed by the Netherlands and in third place the US.

Semiconductor "bottleneck"

"Foreign trade has, however, not yet returned to pre-crisis levels," observed Professor Sebastian Dullien of the Institute of Macroeconomic Policy Institute (IMK), part of Germany's trade union-affiliated Hans Böckler research foundation.

Alongside the Corona crisis, two special factors in particular played roles, said Dullien: "Brexit and supply bottlenecks for semiconductors."

"Trade with the United Kingdom is expected to decline again significantly in the first months of 2021, forecast Dullien.

"The supply bottlenecks for chips are currently hampering auto production and thus dampening [German] exports," he added.

Trends looking up

"Things are looking much better for the current year, said Jörg Zeuner of the commercial banking entity Union Investment.  "An increase in real exports in the high single-digit percentage range is very likely."

"They [exports] should profit from the expected economic recovery in the euro zone and from dynamic growth in important customer countries such as China and the USA," said Zeuner.

He added that US President Biden "is making a strong case for comprehensive fiscal packages."

How dependent is Germany on China?

ipj/rs (Reuters, dpa, AFP)