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China claims Germany's export crown

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China claims Germany's export crown
Photo: DPA
14:36 CET+01:00
China overtook Germany last year to become the world's leading exporter as German trade suffered its sharpest slump since 1950, figures from Germany's Federal Statistics Office showed on Tuesday.

"According to information from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, Chinese exports amounted to $1,201.7 billion (€876.5 billion), while German exports totalled $1,121.3 billion" last year, the stats office said in a statement.

The total value of 2009 German exports came to €803.2 billion, a drop of 18.4 percent, while imports fell by 17.2 percent to €667.1 billion compared with 2008.

"This was the highest decline recorded in foreign trade in relation to both imports and exports since 1950," the statement said.

Germany had been the global export champion since 2003, when it wrested the crown from the United States, a Federal Statistics Office spokesman noted.

Europe's largest economy also reported, however, that exports gained 3.0 percent in December from the previous month, the fourth consecutive monthly rise and a positive sign for the future according to economists.

"The trend in foreign trade is still clearly upwards and contributed positively to economic growth in the fourth quarter," Commerzbank analyst Simon Junker said.

Exports were 3.4 percent higher than in December 2008 - the first year-on-year gain since the global economic crisis deepened in October 2008 and a key indication that a recovery is underway.

In the end, Berlin posted a trade surplus of €136.1 billion for 2009, though that was down from the €178.3 billion recorded in 2008.

The economy shrank by five percent last year, Germany's worst recession since World War II, but as consumption and exports slowly recover, the government has forecast growth of 1.4 percent this year.

Germany benefits in particular from EU trade, which accounted for 62.7 percent of its exports last year.

"At least there is one reliable source of growth," ING senior economist Carsten Brzeski said. "Since March last year, German exports have increased by more than 10 percent."

He noted however that the latest German data releases indicate the recovery lost steam late last year but stressed the overall picture was better than it seemed.

Inventory building would continue to underpin economic activity and trade should get a boost from the euro's fall against the dollar that stemmed from fears generated by debt crises in Greece, Portugal and Spain.

The weaker euro was "bound to be a boon to European exporters," said Howard Archer, chief economist for IHS Global Insight, a research consultancy in London.

Brzeski concluded that "the road might be bumpy but it is the road to recovery and not a dead-end street."

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