There is a growing consensus among commentators that Germany is de-coupling from France and from the rest of the Eurozone’s deficit regions. That German industry is turning instead to Asia and the rest of the world (even to Britain) for sources of demand for its net exports. However, the data suggests otherwise. Germany remains perfectly dependent on the Eurozone’s deficit member-states for the purposes of financing its net trade deficit with key non-Eurozone countries.
In 2012, mostly on account of energy imports, Germany had a net trade deficit of €27 billion with Russia, Libya, and Norway. In addition, it sported a €4.7 billion trade deficit vis-à-vis Japan and a sizeable €11.7 billion trade deficit with China. In total, Germany’s trade deficit with these net exporters summed to €43.4 billion. Meanwhile, Germany’s trade surplus with the Eurozone’s deficit nations (France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Cyprus and Ireland) came to a still staggering €54.6 billion – despite the sharp diminution of this number following the sharp decline in imports in these crisis-hit nations.
Put differently, Germany’s net exports to the countries that the German press likes to lambast as ‘laggards’ that constitute a drain on German ‘progress’, sufficed to pay for Germany’s net trade deficit vis-à-vis China, Japan, Norway, Russia and Libya, with €11.2 billion to spare: enough to cover for the €3.4 billion transferred to German factories in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia and a large chunk of German companies’ transfer payments to their Dutch partners or subsidiaries (which are in a surplus of more than €15 billion with their German partners).
In short, despite all rumours to the contrary, German global trade surpluses are still being financed by the deficits of the imploding Eurozone ‘stragglers’. It is in this sense that Germany’s denial of the systemic nature of the Eurozone crisis, and its leaders’ commitment to the principle of ‘the greatest austerity for the weakest Eurozone member-states’, is perhaps our epoch’s most spectacular own-goal.