Germany Advances East

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, data showed on Friday.

German imports from and exports to China rose to 170 billion euros ($180 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

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