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German trade surplus hits record level

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Containers at Hamburg docks. Photo: DPA
10:17 CET+01:00
Germany's trade surplus soared to a new record high in 2013, although export momentum tailed off at the end of the year, official data showed on Friday.
Europe's biggest economy notched up a trade surplus of €198.9 billion in 2013, the highest since foreign trade data have been compiled.
 
In 2012, the surplus had stood at 1€89.8 billion.
 
Germany has come under fire for its booming trade surplus, with critics arguing that its economic prowess comes at the expense of the eurozone's weaker members.
   
The critics, from both the EU and US, argue that Germany needs to boost domestic demand and so help its EU partners by spurring export-driven growth in their economies rather than continue to rely mostly on its own exports for growth.
   
But Berlin has persistently dismissed the criticism, arguing that the high surplus reflects the competitiveness of German firms.
   
Total exports slipped by 0.2 percent over the year as a whole, while overall imports fell by 1.2 percent.
   
But exports to the euro area were down 1.2 percent, whereas imports from the eurozone slipped only fractionally by 0.2 percent, Destatis calculated.
   
Exports to the wider EU edged up by 0.1 percent while EU imports grew by 0.8 percent.
   
A closer look at the monthly data showed that export momentum has also been tailing off at the end of the year,
   
In raw or unadjusted terms, the trade surplus narrowed to €14.2 billion in December from €19.1 billion in November.
 
Berenberg Bank economist Christian Schulz said the Destatis data painted an incomplete picture because imports from China, for example, which reach Germany via another eurozone country such as the Netherlands are counted as imports from the eurozone.
   
"But the trend towards rebalancing is clear nonetheless and also reflected in data from the Bundesbank that adjusts for the country of origin," Schulz said.
   

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Schulz said that the outlook for German trade this year was "mixed".
   
"Strengthening export markets in the developed world could be offset by weaker demand in those emerging markets currently in turbulence. As long as China stays apart, the impact might be limited," Schulz said.
   
"But the trade surplus looks set to stabilize or even shrink as stronger domestic demand should boost imports more than strengthening global demand will increase exports," he said.
 

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