China now Germany’s top trading partner

China for the first time became Germany’s most important trading partner in 2016, overtaking the United States, which fell back to third place behind France.

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German imports from and exports to China rose to 170 billion euros ($A230 billion) last year, Federal Statistics Office figures reviewed by Reuters showed.

The development is likely to be welcomed by the German government, which has made it a goal to safeguard global free trade after US President Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs on imports and his top adviser on trade accused Germany of exploiting a weak euro to boost exports.

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has even suggested that the European Union should refocus its economic policy toward Asia, should the Trump administration pursue protectionism.

“Given the protectionist plans of the new US president one would expect that the trade ties between Germany and China will be further strengthened,” Germany’s BGA trade association said in response to the shift.

In 2015, the United States became the top trading partner for Germany, overtaking France for the first time since 1961 thanks to an upturn in the US economy and a weaker euro.

Looking at exports alone, the United States remained the biggest client for products “Made in Germany” in 2016, importing goods from Europe’s biggest economy worth some 107 billion euros ($A146 billion).

Britain and the US respectively had the biggest and second biggest bi-lateral trade deficit with Germany accounting for roughly 40 per cent of the country’s record trade surplus of 252.9 billion euros ($A347 billion) in 2016.

The figures are likely to fuel the debate about Germany’s export performance, its trade surplus and global economic imbalances ahead of a meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors in Baden-Baden mid-March.