Based on the average exchange rate for 2021, the euro appreciated by 5% against the US dollar since 2017 and strengthened by 3.9% from 2020 to 2021. The stronger European Union currency in 2021 made Germany’s exports paid for in weaker US dollars relatively more expensive for international buyers.
Germany’s biggest export products by value in 2021 were cars, medication mixes in dosage, automotive parts or accessories, blood fractions including antisera, then aircraft plus spacecraft. In aggregate, those major exports accounted for 20.6% of overall exports sales from Germany. That percentage suggests a relatively diversified range of exported goods.
Germany is a world-leader for exporting cars, drugs and medicines, and automotive parts or accessories. The European nation ranks among the top exporters for international sales of blood fractions including antisera for therapeutic purposes, and aircraft plus spacecraft including aircraft parts.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 66% of products exported from Germany were bought by importers in: United States of America (8.9% of the global total), China (7.5%), France (7.4%), Netherlands (6.7%), Poland (5.7%), Italy (5.5%), Austria (5%), United Kingdom (4.8%), Switzerland (4.5%), Belgium (3.7%), Czech Republic (3.4%) and Spain (3.2%).
From a continental perspective, 67% of Germany’s exports by value were delivered to fellow European countries while 18.1% were sold to importers in Asia. Germany shipped another 10.7% worth of goods to North America.
Smaller percentages went to Africa (1.7%), Latin America (1.6%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, and Oceania (0.9%) led by Australia and New Zealand.
Given Germany’s population of 83.3 million people, its total $1.626 trillion in 2021 exports translates to roughly $19,500 for every resident in the European economic hub. That per-capita dollar amount compares to an average $16,600 one year earlier in 2020.
Germany’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in German global shipments during 2021. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Germany.
- Machinery including computers: US$268.6 billion (16.5% of total exports)
- Vehicles: $246 billion (15.1%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $176.4 billion (10.8%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $118 billion (7.3%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $83.8 billion (5.2%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $76.3 billion (4.7%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $43.3 billion (2.7%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $33.9 billion (2.1%)
- Other chemical goods: $32.9 billion (2%)
- Iron, steel: $32.7 billion (2%)
Germany’s top 10 exports accounted for over two-thirds (68.4%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Mineral fuels including oil was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 65.4% from 2020 to 2021.
In second place for improving export sales were the materials iron and steel via a 48.3% gain.
Germany’s shipments of plastics plus articles made from plastic posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 27%.
The most modest improvement year over year among Germany’s top 10 export categories was optical, technical and medical apparatus thanks to a 12.6% rise.
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more granular view of exported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of Germany’s Most Valuable Export Products further down near the bottom of this article.
Germany’s overall trade surplus shrank slightly by -0.8% to $205.3 billion for 2021 from $207 billion in black ink during 2020.
The following types of German product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus for 2021. 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.
- Vehicles: US$110.8 billion (Up by 27.3% since 2020)
- Machinery including computers: $92.6 billion (Up by 7.8%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $38.7 billion (Up by 20.3%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $34.9 billion (Up by 10%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $21.1 billion (Up by 14.7%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $15.3 billion (Up by 4.4%)
- Other chemical goods: $10.3 billion (Up by 8.7%)
- Paper, paper items: $8.2 billion (Up by 28.1%)
- Tanning, dyes, paints, varnishes, ink: $6.8 billion (Up by 18.3%)
- Inorganic chemicals: $6.5 billion (Up by 55.1%)
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.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$84.4 billion (Up by 67.9% since 2020)
- Gems, precious metals: -$14.6 billion (Up by 127.8%)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$14.5 billion (Up by 52.7%)
- Fruits, nuts: -$10.8 billion (Up by 4.3%)
- Organic chemicals: -$9.8 billion (Down by -25.8%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$9.6 billion (Up by 21.4%)
- Vegetables: -$7 billion (Up by 10.7%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$6.9 billion (Up by 3.3%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting , signs, prefab buildings: -$6.2 billion (Up by 31.3%)
- Oil seeds: -$6 billion (Up by 22.1%)
Germany has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits particularly for both crude oil and refined petroleum oils.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Germany’s competitive disadvantages in the international oil market, but also represent key opportunities for Germany to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations in alternative energy sources.
German Export Companies
Over fifty German corporations rank among Forbes Global 2000. Below is a selected sample of major German export companies.
- Adidas (apparel/accessories)
- Allianz (diversified insurance)
- BASF (diversified chemicals)
- Bayer (diversified chemicals)
- BMW Group (cars, trucks)
- Continental (automotive parts)
- Daimler (cars, trucks)
- Fresenius (medical equipment, supplies)
- Heidelberg Cement (construction materials)
- Henkel (household/personal care items)
- Linde (diversified chemicals)
- Merck (pharmaceuticals)
- Siemens (conglomerate, engineering)
- Volkswagen Group (cars, trucks)
Searchable List of Germany’s Most Valuable Export Products
The following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Germany during 2021. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2020.
|Rank||Germany's Export Product||2021 Value (US$)||Change|
|2||Medication mixes in dosage||$64,062,375,000||+6.2%|
|4||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$47,645,505,000||+47.4%|
|6||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$18,998,668,000||+13.3%|
|7||Computers, optical readers||$18,291,432,000||+16.2%|
|9||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$16,890,926,000||+21.8%|
|10||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$16,778,163,000||+16.4%|
|12||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$15,272,965,000||+18.6%|
|13||Processed petroleum oils||$14,970,220,000||+56.9%|
|15||Phone system devices||$13,601,911,000||+1%|
|16||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$13,561,630,000||+7.2%|
|17||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$13,463,224,000||+14.6%|
|18||Piston engine parts||$13,237,037,000||+19.6%|
|19||Electrical converters/power units||$11,968,022,000||+16.7%|
|20||Liquid pumps and elevators||$11,677,181,000||+13.6%|
|21||Miscellaneous plastic items||$11,365,011,000||+17.8%|
|22||Air or vacuum pumps||$10,382,406,000||+10.6%|
|26||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$9,711,593,000||+12.7%|
|29||Other measuring/testing machines||$9,232,661,000||+12.3%|
|30||Electric motors, generators||$8,486,695,000||+13.2%|
|31||Dishwashing, clean/dry/fill machines||$8,466,297,000||+6%|
|32||Electric storage batteries||$8,320,949,000||+47.7%|
|34||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$8,007,954,000||+22.8%|
|36||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$7,758,803,000||+23.8%|
|37||Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers||$7,297,399,000||+19.9%|
|40||Chemical industry products/residuals||$6,498,450,000||+21.9%|
|41||Other diagnostic/lab reagents||$6,469,115,000||+18%|
|46||Electric circuit parts, fuses, switches||$6,125,284,000||+17.3%|
|47||Rubber/plastic article making machines||$6,078,897,000||+11.3%|
|50||Aluminum plates, sheets, strips||$5,906,385,000||+33.1%|
|52||Precious metal compounds||$5,889,746,000||+47.6%|
|53||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$5,808,859,000||+20.3%|
|54||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$5,803,652,000||+16.4%|
|56||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$5,757,663,000||+19.3%|
|57||Rubber tires (new)||$5,674,635,000||+14.9%|
|58||Base metal mountings, fittings||$5,634,321,000||+18.9%|
|59||Initiators/accelerators, catalytic preps||$5,601,243,000||+29.7%|
|60||Ball, roller bearings||$5,475,397,000||+16.2%|
|62||Chocolate, other cocoa preparations||$5,362,508,000||+9.4%|
|63||Liquid/gas checking instruments||$5,270,974,000||+15.2%|
|66||Iron or steel scrap||$5,166,959,000||+57.2%|
|67||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$5,124,235,000||+23.2%|
|68||Plastic tubes, pipes, fittings||$4,949,341,000||+16.6%|
|71||Electrical lighting/signaling equpment, defrosters||$4,711,518,000||+15.1%|
|72||Cruise/cargo ships, barges||$4,683,169,000||+18.9%|
|73||Other food preparations||$4,667,916,000||+13%|
|74||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$4,593,866,000||+6.5%|
|75||Vulcanized rubber items||$4,525,682,000||+16.5%|
|77||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$4,423,982,000||+14.3%|
|80||Other organic cleaning preparations||$4,312,864,000||+9.8%|
|81||Interchangeable hand/machine tools||$4,300,245,000||+17.1%|
|82||Computer parts, accessories||$4,298,351,000||+25.1%|
|83||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$4,281,567,000||+22.9%|
|84||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$4,272,512,000||+13.6%|
|85||Miscellaneous animal feed preparations||$4,243,828,000||+18%|
|86||Precious metal waste, scrap||$4,018,735,000||+45.1%|
|88||Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers)||$4,016,420,000||+24%|
|89||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$3,945,617,000||+15.2%|
|91||Special purpose vehicles||$3,912,239,000||+15.3%|
|94||Pneumatic hand tool||$3,800,637,000||+22.8%|
|95||Paper containers, cellulose wadding||$3,761,259,000||+9.1%|
|96||Spray/dispersing mechanical appliances||$3,751,083,000||+13.5%|
|100||Cellulose fiber paper||$3,650,765,000||+17.4%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$1.016 trillion or over three-fifths (62.5%) by value for all products exported from Deutschland during 2021.
In macroeconomic terms, Germany’s total exported goods represent 33.6% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2021 ($4.843 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 33.6% for exports to overall GDP per PPP in 2021 compares to 30.9% one year earlier. Those percentages suggest a relatively increasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Germany’s total economic performance, albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Germany’s unemployment rate was 3.696% at October 2021, down from an average 3.833% for 2021 according to the International Monetary Fund.
See also Germany’s Top 10 Imports, Germany’s Top Trading Partners, Top German Trade Balances and Germany’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
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Forbes, Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 16, 2022
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (Domestic Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on March 16, 2022
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International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on March 16, 2022
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 16, 2022
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Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on March 16, 2022
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