China for the first time became Germany's most important trading partner in 2016, overtaking the United States, which fell back to third place behind France, data showed on Friday.
German imports from and exports to China rose to €170 billion last year, Federal Statistics Office figures reviewed by Reuters showed. The development is likely to be welcomed by the German government, which has made it a goal to safeguard global free trade after US president Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs on imports and his top adviser on trade accused Germany of exploiting a weak euro to boost exports.
German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has even suggested that the European Union should refocus its economic policy toward Asia, should the Trump administration pursue protectionism. "Given the protectionist plans of the new U.S. president one would expect that the trade ties between Germany and China will be further strengthened," Germany's BGA trade association said in response to the shift.
Neighouring France remained the second-most important business partner with a combined trade volume of €167 billion. The United States came in third with €165 billion.
In 2015, the United States became the top trading partner for Germany, overtaking France for the first time since 1961 thanks to an upturn in the US economy and a weaker euro. Separately, Germany's Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations said on Friday it expected exports to Russia will probably rise at least 5 per cent this year, their first increase in years given Western sanctions.