Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, Germany uses the euro which appreciated by 2% against the US dollar since 2016 and rose by 3.1% from 2019 to 2020. The stronger EU currency in 2020 made Germany’s exports paid for in weaker US dollars relatively more expensive for international buyers compared to 2019.
Germany’s biggest export products by value in 2020 were cars, medication mixes in dosage, automotive parts or accessories, blood fractions including antisera, and aircraft plus spacecraft. In aggregate, those major exports accounted for 21% of overall exports sales from Germany. That percentage suggests a relatively diversified range of exported goods.
Germany is the 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: the United States (8.6% of the global total), China (8%), France (7.5%), Netherlands (6.5%), United Kingdom (5.5%), Poland (5.4%), Italy (5%), Austria (4.8%), Switzerland (4.7%), Belgium (3.6%), Czech Republic (3.3%) and Spain (3.1%).
From a continental perspective, 66.1% of Germany exports by value were delivered to European countries while 19.1% were sold to Asian importers. Germany shipped another 10.3% worth of goods to North America. Smaller percentages went to Africa (1.7%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (1.4%) then Oceania led by Australia (0.9%).
Given Germany’s population of 83.2 million people, its total $1.378 trillion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $16,600 for every resident in the European economic hub.
Germany’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in German global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Germany.
- Machinery including computers: US$236.3 billion (17.1% of total exports)
- Vehicles: $211 billion (15.3%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $151.7 billion (11%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $97.7 billion (7.1%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $74.5 billion (5.4%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $60.4 billion (4.4%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $28.3 billion (2.1%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $28.2 billion (2%)
- Other chemical goods: $27 billion (2%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $26 billion (1.9%)
Germany’s top 10 exports accounted for over two-thirds (68.3%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Pharmaceuticals was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 8.2% from 2019 to 2020. In second place for improving export sales were miscellaneous chemical goods via a 3.2% gain.
The leading decliner among Germany’s top 10 export categories was aircraft and spacecraft thanks to its -34.7% drop year over year.
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.
Among Germany’s trading partners that generate the greatest positive trade balances, German surpluses with Russia (up 81.9%), Belgium (up 65%) and Switzerland (up 5.4%) grew at the fastest pace from 2019 to 2020.
The following types of German product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus for 2020. 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$88.1 billion (Down by -18.1% since 2019)
- Machinery including computers: $86.6 billion (Down by -13.9%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $31.9 billion (Up by 0.5%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $31.7 billion (Down by -10.5%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $18.4 billion (Up by 0.5%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $14.2 billion (Down by -43.9%)
- Other chemical goods: $9.3 billion (Down by -7.4%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $6.4 billion (Down by -11.6%)
- Paper, paper items: $6.4 billion (Down by -6.5%)
- Tanning, dyes, paints, varnishes, ink: $5.7 billion (Down by -10.6%)
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.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$52.3 billion (Down by -30.2% since 2018)
- Organic chemicals: -$13.2 billion (Down by -12.8%)
- Fruits, nuts: -$10.3 billion (Up by 12.9%)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$9.6 billion (Up by 8.7%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$7.8 billion (Down by -6.5%)
- Miscellaneous textiles, worn clothing: -$7.5 billion (Up by 410.3%)
- Gems, precious metals: -$6.7 billion (Up by 151%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$6.6 billion (Down by -3.4%)
- Vegetables: -$6.4 billion (Up by 9.8%)
- Oil seeds: -$5 billion (Up by 11.7%)
Germany has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits particularly for both crude oil and refined petroleum oils.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Germany’s competitive disadvantages in the international oil market, but also represent key opportunities for Germany to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations in alternative energy sources.
German Export Companies
Over fifty German corporations rank among Forbes Global 2000. Below is a selected sample of major German export companies.
- Adidas (apparel/accessories)
- Allianz (diversified insurance)
- BASF (diversified chemicals)
- Bayer (diversified chemicals)
- BMW Group (cars, trucks)
- Continental (automotive parts)
- Daimler (cars, trucks)
- Fresenius (medical equipment, supplies)
- Heidelberg Cement (construction materials)
- Henkel (household/personal care items)
- Linde (diversified chemicals)
- Merck (pharmaceuticals)
- Siemens (conglomerate, engineering)
- Volkswagen Group (cars, trucks)
Searchable List of Germany’s Most Valuable Export Products
The following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Germany during 2020. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2019.
|Rank||Germany's Export Product||2020 Value (US$)||Change|
|2||Medication mixes in dosage||$60,097,726,000||+6.4%|
|4||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$31,827,669,000||+12.5%|
|6||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$16,661,453,000||+2.5%|
|8||Computers, optical readers||$15,619,085,000||+4%|
|9||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$14,277,451,000||+2.8%|
|10||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$13,769,858,000||-5%|
|11||Phone system devices||$13,289,288,000||+0.03%|
|12||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$12,840,613,000||-9%|
|14||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$12,552,866,000||-9.4%|
|15||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$11,711,112,000||-7.4%|
|16||Piston engine parts||$11,125,903,000||-15.4%|
|17||Liquid pumps and elevators||$10,279,793,000||-9.4%|
|18||Electrical converters/power units||$10,103,309,000||+10.1%|
|20||Processed petroleum oils||$9,507,315,000||-24.7%|
|21||Miscellaneous plastic items||$9,468,797,000||-2.3%|
|23||Air or vacuum pumps||$9,283,649,000||-6.4%|
|26||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$8,552,006,000||-2.5%|
|28||Other measuring/testing machines||$8,120,712,000||-12.4%|
|29||Dishwashing, clean/dry/fill machines||$7,915,178,000||-3.1%|
|33||Electric motors, generators||$7,409,971,000||-10.2%|
|35||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$6,502,119,000||-3.4%|
|36||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$6,225,852,000||-3.1%|
|37||Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers||$6,041,928,000||-7.7%|
|40||Electric storage batteries||$5,555,636,000||+31.8%|
|41||Other diagnostic/lab reagents||$5,406,348,000||+26.6%|
|44||Rubber/plastic article making machines||$5,302,312,000||-8.4%|
|45||Chemical industry products/residuals||$5,292,573,000||-4%|
|46||Electric circuit parts, fuses, switches||$5,187,554,000||-7.5%|
|50||Rubber tires (new)||$4,911,057,000||-13.4%|
|51||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$4,888,859,000||-2.6%|
|52||Chocolate, other cocoa preparations||$4,858,767,000||-2%|
|54||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$4,766,356,000||-7.7%|
|57||Base metal mountings, fittings||$4,699,977,000||-6.3%|
|58||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$4,696,743,000||+5.2%|
|59||Ball, roller bearings||$4,695,486,000||-8.1%|
|61||Liquid/gas checking instruments||$4,537,835,000||-10%|
|62||Aluminum plates, sheets, strips||$4,434,426,000||-19.4%|
|65||Initiators/accelerators, catalytic preps||$4,305,727,000||+1.5%|
|66||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$4,260,164,000||+4.4%|
|67||Plastic tubes, pipes, fittings||$4,209,417,000||-2.1%|
|68||Electrical lighting/signaling equpment, defrosters||$4,100,699,000||-5.8%|
|69||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$4,099,729,000||-12.2%|
|70||Other food preparations||$3,976,638,000||+5%|
|71||Precious metal compounds||$3,971,416,000||+35.2%|
|72||Other organic cleaning preparations||$3,909,785,000||+0.6%|
|73||Vulcanized rubber items||$3,849,730,000||-4.5%|
|74||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$3,843,424,000||-15.4%|
|76||Cruise/cargo ships, barges||$3,799,745,000||-20.9%|
|78||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$3,759,143,000||+0.1%|
|80||Interchangeable hand/machine tools||$3,577,121,000||-14%|
|81||Miscellaneous animal feed preparations||$3,538,295,000||+16.9%|
|82||Electric generating sets, converters||$3,477,071,000||-1.7%|
|83||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$3,436,062,000||-5.9%|
|84||Computer parts, accessories||$3,414,538,000||-2%|
|85||Paper containers, cellulose wadding||$3,410,445,000||+1.2%|
|87||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$3,351,400,000||-12.2%|
|89||Special purpose vehicles||$3,277,228,000||-20.5%|
|90||Spray/dispersing mechanical appliances||$3,267,314,000||-5.9%|
|91||Miscellaneous engines, motors||$3,260,441,000||-19.7%|
|92||Iron or steel scrap||$3,175,299,000||-7.8%|
|93||Women's clothing (not knit or crochet)||$3,170,295,000||-5.8%|
|94||Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers)||$3,142,927,000||-19%|
|97||Pneumatic hand tool||$3,074,296,000||+3.6%|
|98||Cellulose fiber paper||$3,069,278,000||-8.6%|
|100||Other machine parts, accessories||$2,992,082,000||-20.1%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$863.8 billion or over three-fifths (62.7%) by value for all products exported from Deutschland during 2020.
In macroeconomic terms, Germany’s total exported goods represent 30.9% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($4.454 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 30.9% for exports to overall GDP per PPP in 2020 compares to 33.4% one year earlier. Those percentages seem to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Germany’s total economic performance, albeit based on a very short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Germany’s unemployment rate was 4.6% at December 2020, up from an average 3.206% for 2020 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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