Germany’s Top 10 Exports

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Europe’s most powerful economy, Germany shipped US$1.445 trillion worth of goods around the globe in 2017. That dollar amount reflects a -0.4% retreat since 2013 but a 7.8% gain from 2016 to 2017.

Based on estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, Germany’s exported goods plus services represent 47.3% of total German economic output or Gross Domestic Product. The analysis below focuses on exported products only.

From a continental perspective, 65.9% of German exports by value were delivered to other European countries while 18.3% were sold to Asian importers. Germany shipped another 10.5% worth of goods to North America. Smaller percentages went to customers in Africa (2%) and Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (1.6%).

Given Germany’s population of 80.6 million people, its total $1.445 trillion in 2017 exports translates to roughly $17,900 for every resident in the European gargantuan.

Germany’s unemployment rate was 3.6% as of January 2018 down from 4.3% two years earlier, according to Trading Economics.

Germany’s Top 10 Exports

Top 10

The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in German global shipments during 2017. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Germany.

At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, Germany’s most valuable exported products are cars followed by automotive parts and accessories, therapeutic or prophylactic drugs and medicines, then powered aircraft including planes, helicopters, spacecraft and satellites.

  1. Vehicles: US$257.2 billion (17.8% of total exports)
  2. Machinery including computers: $245.4 billion (17%)
  3. Electrical machinery, equipment: $148.8 billion (10.3%)
  4. Pharmaceuticals: $84.1 billion (5.8%)
  5. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $72.8 billion (5%)
  6. Plastics, plastic articles: $63.6 billion (4.4%)
  7. Aircraft, spacecraft: $41.8 billion (2.9%)
  8. Articles of iron or steel: $30.5 billion (2.1%)
  9. Mineral fuels including oil: $26.8 billion (1.9%)
  10. Iron, steel: $26.4 billion (1.8%)

Germany’s top 10 exports accounted for over two-thirds (69%) of the overall value of its global shipments.

Iron and steel represent the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up 21.4% from 2016 to 2017.

In second place for improving export sales was the optical, technical and medical apparatus category which gained 11.5% in value.

Machinery including computers appreciated by 9.9%, trailed by the pharmaceuticals category up 9.1% year over year.

Two top categories declined, namely aircraft or spacecraft (down -6.1%) and mineral fuels including oil (down -8.4%).


Overall, Germany posted a trade surplus equal to $276.6 billion in 2017. That dollar amount in black ink represents a 4.9% uptick from the $263.6-billion surplus during 2010 but a -1.2% dip from Germany’s $280.1-billion trade surplus during 2016.

The following types of German product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports. In a nutshell, net exports reflect the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.

  1. Vehicles: US$134 billion (Up by 0.7% since 2016)
  2. Machinery including computers: $96.8 billion (Up by 12.1%)
  3. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $32.5 billion (Up by 20.1%)
  4. Pharmaceuticals: $30.5 billion (Up by 8.9%)
  5. Aircraft, spacecraft: $24.6 billion (Down by -0.1%)
  6. Plastics, plastic articles: $19.1 billion (Down by -12.5%)
  7. Other chemical goods: $10.2 billion (Up by 4.7%)
  8. Articles of iron or steel: $7.2 billion (Down by -0.9%)
  9. Paper, paper items: $6.2 billion (Up by 5.4%)
  10. Tanning, dyes, paints, varnishes, ink: $6 billion (Up by 4.6%)

Germany has highly positive net exports in the international trade of cars and automotive parts. In turn, these cashflows indicate Germany’s strong competitive advantages and engineering excellence under the vehicles product category.


Below are exports from Germany that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Germany’s goods trail German importer spending on foreign products.

  1. Mineral fuels including oil: -US$69.4 billion (Up by 41% since 2016)
  2. Organic chemicals: -$9.1 billion (Up by 86.6%)
  3. Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$9.1 billion (Down by -3.4%)
  4. Fruits, nuts: -$8.9 billion (Up by 10.6%)
  5. Ores, slag, ash: -$7.8 billion (Up by 27.7%)
  6. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$7.7 billion (Down by -11.9%)
  7. Gems, precious metals: -$5.6 billion (Up by 214.6%)
  8. Vegetables: -$5.6 billion (Up by 5.4%)
  9. Footwear: -$4.9 billion (Down by -5.6%)
  10. Oil seeds: -$4.3 billion (Up by 4.6%)

Germany has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for both crude oil and refined petroleum.

These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Germany’s competitive disadvantages in the international oil market, but also represent key opportunities for Germany to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations in alternative energy sources.


German Export Companies

Fifty-two German corporations rank among Forbes Global 2000. Below is a sample of major German export companies:

  • Adidas (apparel/accessories)
  • Allianz (diversified insurance)
  • BASF (diversified chemicals)
  • Bayer (diversified chemicals)
  • BMW Group (cars, trucks)
  • Continental (automotive parts)
  • Daimler (cars, trucks)
  • Fresenius (medical equipment, supplies)
  • Heidelberg Cement (construction materials)
  • Henkel (household/personal care items)
  • Linde (diversified chemicals)
  • Merck (pharmaceuticals)
  • Siemens (conglomerate, engineering)
  • Volkswagen Group (cars, trucks)

Germany’s capital city is Berlin.

Please note that the results listed above are at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level.

See also Germany’s Top 10 Imports, Germany’s Top 10 Major Export Companies, Germany’s Top Trading Partners, Top German Trade Balances and Highest Value German Export Products

Research Sources:
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on March 7, 2018

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on March 7, 2018

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on March 7, 2018

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 7, 2018

Wikipedia, List of Companies of Germany. Accessed on March 7, 2018

Forbes 2015 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 7, 2018