U.S. overtakes France to become Germany's top trading partner

BERLIN (Reuters) - The United States became the top destination for German exports last year, overtaking France for the first time since 1961 thanks to an upturn in the U.S. economy and a weaker euro, data from Germany’s Statistics Office showed on Saturday.

A stamp on a toy car reading 'Made in Germany" is pictured in Dortmund August 25, 2013. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Exports to the United States rose by 19 percent to 114 billion euros ($127 billion) in 2015, compared with an increase in French purchases of 2.5 percent to 103 billion euros.

It was the first time in more than half a century that France was not Germany’s biggest trading partner and economists said the picture was unlikely to change any time soon.

“This is more of a long-term trend,” said Simon Juncker, an expert at Germany’s DIW economic institute.

He said solid U.S. growth rates were partly responsible for the rising demand for German goods.

The world’s biggest economy grew by 2.4 percent last year and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) expects U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) to increase by 2.0 percent this year.

France’s GDP, on the other hand, rose 1.1 percent in 2015 and the OECD is forecasting growth of 1.2 percent this year.

“The American economy is currently experiencing a stable economic upturn, which benefits German companies,” said Bernhard Mattes, head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany.

“This also includes low energy prices, a comparatively low U.S. wage level and the weak external value of the euro.”

Since mid-2014, the euro has depreciated by nearly a fifth against the dollar, following expansionary monetary policies by the European Central Bank.

“This exchange rate effect has boosted foreign demand quite markedly,” said DIW’s Juncker.

As a member of the euro itself, France wasn’t able to benefit from that depreciation in its trade with Germany.

Writing by Tina Bellon; Editing by Mark Potter