Germany had merchandise goods trade with 237 countries and territories in 2018 encompassing every region of the world — with partners that were large, small and tiny. There were trade surpluses with 167 and deficits with 70 partners.
The total value of trade surpluses was €313bn while deficits were valued at €85bn, giving a net surplus of €228bn — equivalent to 6.7% of 2018 gross domestic product (GDP).
Germany recorded the world’s largest current account surplus (Balance of Payments: including a net deficit in services trade of -€16.7bn) for the third year running in 2018, although it fell €15½bn to €246½bn. According to the Deutsche Bundesbank in relation to GDP it fell by ¾ percentage point to 7¼% — above the threshold of 6% of GDP set by the European Commission as part of the procedure for preventing and correcting macroeconomic imbalances.
The current account balance vis-à-vis the other 18 member countries of the Euro Area fell by ¼ percentage point to 2½% of GDP.
The top 10 trade surpluses amounted to €178bn led by the United States at €49bn and the United Kingdom at €45bn. The top 10 deficits were valued at €56bn led by China at €13bn and Russia at €10.bn.
The deficit with China would fall to just above €8bn if Hong Kong's surplus was netted against Mainland China while the deficits with the Netherlands (transhipments through the port of Rotterdam), Belgium (Brussels is Europe's air freight hub) and Ireland (profits shifting) valued at about €10bn in total, are artificial.
In summary, Germany has trade surpluses with most of the countries in Europe apart from Russia + Norway (fuel imports) and German car imports from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It has surpluses with the main countries in the Americas north and south; it also has surpluses with the main oil producers in the Middle East, while in Asia it has surpluses with India, South Korea, Australia and Singapore, while most of its deficits are with the rest of Asian countries.
Motor vehicles and parts accounted for the largest exports category at 17.5% in 2018 followed by machines worth €193bn and chemical products worth €118bn.
Germany as anchor of European Union
In 2018 Germany accounted for 25% of the EU27 (ex-UK) GDP and 29% of the GDP of the 19-member country Euro Area.
Germany has had an unbroken record of merchandise trade surpluses since 1952 and for goods + services since 2000, compared with continuous overall trade deficits every year since 1976 in the United States (data is exaggerated because of the exclusion of significant sales overseas by affiliates of US firms); from 1999 in the UK and in France from 2007.
In 2018 German exports of goods and services were 47% of GDP (gross domestic product) compared with 48% for the 19-country Euro Area and 46% for the EU28.
France's rate was 31%; the UK's was 30%; Italy 32%; Spain 34%; US 12% in 2017 and an OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's mainly wealthy 36 countries) average of 29% in 2017. A ratio for Ireland would not be reliable because of multinational firm distortions.
In 2018, the euro was the most widely used form of payment for German exports to countries outside the European Union (third countries). According to Destatis, the German federal statistics office, the value of German export transactions to third countries was 57.6% in euros. In US dollars, 27.7% of export transactions were settled. Only 14.7% of exports were paid in other currencies.
In terms of imports, the euro was also the most widespread means of payment of German companies in trade with non-EU countries, with a share of 47.5% of the total value. In US dollars, 45.6% and in other currencies 6.9% of the import transactions were settled.
Following a dip in the recession year of 2009 German exports have grown by 64% in 2010-2018.