Eurozone countries like Italy, Spain and Greece have had trade deficits with Germany since at least 1980 - 20 years before the euro launch.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says the euro is a continuation rather than a structural break and the Fund's statistics show that since 1999, Germany's trade surplus with the rest of the world has grown faster than its surplus with the other Eurozone countries -- and faster still with European nations that have not adopted the euro. The 2011 German trade statistics to November confirm this.
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In 1980 when Greek debt to GDP (gross domestic product) was at 30% (just before the decade when it went crazy), trade was almost in balance. Since then the value of German imports from Greece hardly changed until 2005 while exports from Germany quadrupled.
In 1980, Germany's exports to Italy as a ratio of imports was 111%; in 2010, it was 130%.
Without FDI (foreign direct investment), Ireland would be in the same position.
Over the past hundred years, the German economy only during the Hitler regime (1933-45) did not rely on exports. Between 1910 and 1913, exports accounted for 17.8% of Germany's GDP. Their share declined to 14.9% in the second half of the 1920s and fell to only 6% in the second half of the 1930s, but by 1950 accounted for 9.3% of West Germany's GDP. Once the postwar economic boom got under way, exports rose to 17.2% of GDP in 1960, to 23.8% in 1970, to 26.7% in 1980, and to approximately 33% in 1990.
In 2010 the following were the export/GDP ratios: Germany 47%; UK 29%; Italy 27%; France 25%; Spain 26%; Greece 22%; US 13% and Ireland 's was 99%.
The international trading market has changed significantly since the end of communism in Eastern Europe and China's decision in the late 1970s to open its economy to private enterprise/ foreign investment.
Developing new export markets is a long-term challenge and seldom easy.
Germany has both strength in industry and also in the food and drink sectors. Its companies have an unrivalled reputation for quality.
The Economist's Schumpeter columnist wrote in November 2010:
2008 presentation: How Germany's mid-size companies get ahead and stay ahead in the global economy [pdf]
Germany has a stronger economy than France but half the percentage of young adults with a college degree.
BusinessWeek magazine said in 2010 that Germany's apprentice system, which doesn't have an equivalent in the US, ensures that Mittelstand companies have a steady flow of qualified workers. They take on 83% of all apprentices in Germany, more than their share of total employment. The apprenticeship system has roots in the Middle Ages, when master craftsmen across Europe taught young men the skills of stonemasonry, carpentry, and roof-making.
The Washington Post reported in 2010 that some of Germany's most dramatic trade growth has been with the East European nations, like Poland, that opened themselves to market capitalism after the fall of the Berlin Wall -- a development that Germans were well positioned to exploit.
Trade between Germany and the former Czechoslovakia, for example, was a few billion dollars annually before the country was dissolved in 1992. Trade between Germany and the Czech Republic grew to more than $80bn in 2008. Trade with Slovakia, which recently adopted the euro, is around $20bn and last year provided Germany with a $1bn surplus. The Czech Republic and Slovakia both joined the European Union in 2004.
BusinessWeek had said the 33 Chilean miners trapped in a copper mine 2,300 feet below the earth's surface in 2010 were relying on a tiny German company more than 7,000 miles away to help get them out.
Micon, a family-owned firm with about 60 employees in the northern town of Nienhagen (population 6,300), designs and builds the precision tool that is aiding the rescue effort for the men, who became stuck after a cave-in.
The Washington Post said: "Buy a bottle of champagne and it puts money in the pocket of Schneider and Co., a family-owned manufacturer that from a remote perch in the German countryside has created a global monopoly on the wire cages that secure the corks on sparkling wine. Obscure in a country of marquee exporters such as Mercedes-Benz and Siemens, the company's international focus is common among small and often family-owned firms in Germany.
Schneider's highly automated plants (in Germany) and in Italy, Spain and Brazil churn out 2bn of the devices a year. Its dominant market share -- amassed over 30 years -- helps explain Germany's complex and controversial role in the European economy."
Struggling economies will have to find ways to improve their export portfolios. However, matching Germany's export powerhouse is a tall order.
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