What’s behind the German trade surplus angering Trump?

President Donald Trump keeps criticizing Germany’s trade surplus with the United States. Germans say their products are just better and people want to buy them.

One thing isn’t in dispute: German companies sold 107 billion euros ($120 billion) worth of goods to U.S. customers last year. Going the other way, U.S. companies sold 58 billion euros ($65 billion) worth of stuff to Germany. The result: a German trade surplus of 49 billion euros ($55 billion).

Trump tweeted Tuesday that “we have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.” He also told EU officials that Germany was “very bad” on the trade question during his stop in Brussels last week.

What’s behind all this? Here’s a look at Germany’s trading relationship with the U.S. and the rest of the world.


Q: Why does Germany sell so many goods in the United States?

A: Germans, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, are quick to say that German companies just make better products. There’s something to that, as anyone noting all the Mercedes-Benz and Porsche rides in Hollywood and Manhattan will have to concede. Germany’s export success also depends on less glamorous goods, often highly technical industrial equipment made by smaller firms that dominate global niche markets. They have a lot of practice at exporting and they’re good at it.


Q: So trade is all one way — advantage Germany?

A: Despite concerns about the surplus there are benefits to businesses and workers in both countries from their close and longstanding business ties. Germany is the sixth-largest export market for the U.S.

Also, German companies often invest, hire and sell in the United States rather than exporting there. Around 600,000 people in the U.S. work for German companies, according to the German American Chambers of Commerce in New York. They include familiar corporate names such as chemical firm BASF, drug company Bayer,…

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