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German exports passed the one trillion euro mark in November last year. As reported by the Federal Statistical Office in Wiesbaden, goods worth EUR 1.012 trillion were sold abroad from January to November. Compared to the same month last year, the gap to imports grew, which is likely to cause renewed criticism from abroad.
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Exports continue to grow
In November, Germany exported goods worth 94.6 billion euros, as the statisticians announced on the basis of preliminary results. That was 1.0 percent more than in the same month last year. Exports to EU countries that do not belong to the euro zone were primarily responsible for the increase. They rose 4.9 percent in November.
The goods imported to Germany were valued at 76.5 billion euros in November – they fell by 0.4 percent compared to November 2012. Compared to October 2013, they fell by a seasonally adjusted 1.1 percent, while exports rose by 0.3 percent.
DIHK praises “export boom”
The foreign trade chief of the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (DIHK), Volker Treier, described the new values as a “very good sign”. Germany is in an “export boom”, he said in Berlin. November was the fourth month in a row in which exports increased seasonally adjusted – the German economy last experienced this in autumn 2007.
The current figures would give the economy “tailwind for a good year for foreign trade in 2014”, Treier said confidently. An “exuberant development” was not to be seen, however. Rather, it is a “tenacious but stable upswing”.
Export surplus under fire
The export surplus, i.e. the gap between exports and imports, was reported to be 18.1 billion euros in November. In the same month last year it had amounted to 16.9 billion euros. The increase is likely to reignite international criticism of Germany’s export strength. However, this criticism was “out of place,” said Treier. German products are in demand abroad. As an example, he cited the USA, where German cars, for example, are very popular.
At the same time, the deputy DIHK managing director predicted that the German export surplus would shrink. This has to do with the plans of German companies to invest more – also abroad.
Reprimand from the US government
The US government recently criticized in a congressional report that the mixture of comparatively weak international consumption and Germany’s strong dependence on exports is holding back economic development in the euro zone and the world economy.
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The export surplus is also causing displeasure in Brussels. The EU has started an investigation into whether Germany, with its high surplus, is actually violating EU rules. Like Washington, Brussels is asking Berlin to increase demand. Berlin rejects the allegations with the argument that the high export surplus only proves the competitiveness of German companies.
The German export industry is expected to do brilliant business in 2014 as well. However, the industry is worried about the growing barriers in world trade, as reported by the newspaper “Die Welt”, citing a survey by the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK). Some countries are particularly bold about this.
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Trade barriers have increased significantly
“Business in the billions are thus lost”, said the foreign trade chief of the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), Volker Treier, the “world”. In a DIHK survey of 2,200 companies, according to the report, every third company complains that trade barriers have increased in the past year.
In addition to tariffs and taxes, measures would also be used that would often lie in the legal gray area and would therefore be difficult to combat at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Most often, the companies would have mentioned additional certification and security requirements.
“The entire bag of tricks is used”
According to the survey, Russia, China and Brazil in particular made life difficult for exporters. “The entire bag of tricks is used,” a DIHK report is quoted as saying. In the Middle Kingdom, companies complain about import taxes, the obligation to cooperate, sluggish bureaucracy and difficult access to tenders.
In Russia, the companies are bothered by regulations such as the introduction of a recycling tax on foreign vehicles. The practice of more and more emerging countries to force export companies to produce in the recipient country because they prescribe so-called “local content” is also angering companies.
German bureaucracy is also causing trouble
This is the only way for companies to avoid higher taxes. But not only foreign authorities cause trouble. It is precisely the German bureaucracy that hinders exporters with lengthy procedures for VAT refunds, not only at customs but also at the Federal Office for Export Control.
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But despite the problems, the industry remains optimistic for 2014 as well. As the “Bild” newspaper reported at the end of December, the DIHK is expecting export sales of 1.45 trillion euros for 2014. That would be an increase of more than four percent compared to 2013.
China is in the middle of a huge investment project: According to estimates by management consultancy McKinsey, around 350 million people will move from the provinces to the cities by 2025. Because houses and apartments are also considered top investments, suburbs or new cities are springing up like mushrooms in the Middle Kingdom. Due to poor planning, however, hardly any people settle there. Even the party newspaper in Beijing warns of the ghost towns.
With the sunset the streets and houses disappear into deep darkness. The lanterns stay dark, no people walk past – the large square in front of the church in Shanghai’s suburb Anting New Town is completely swallowed up by the night.
“German city” before Shanghai
For the people in the area Anting is a German city because it was designed by Albert Speer’s Frankfurt city planners Partner (ASP). But even eight years after the first residents moved in, hardly any people live there. Chinese media are even talking about the German ghost town.
Anting joins a long list. There is a fear of ghost towns in China. Even the party organ “Volkszeitung” is afraid of a huge real estate bubble: “Due to poor planning, many new cities will ultimately become ghost towns”, it says in the party newspaper. But that’s not all: 200 more cities are already being planned.
Real estate moguls and the rich worry
Some of the powerful real estate moguls also join the worry song. While house prices are soaring in double digits every year in almost all major cities in China, Wang Shi, head of China’s largest real estate company, Vanke, says: “There is clearly a real estate bubble and it is possible that it will spiral out of control and burst.” Multi-billionaire Wang Jianlin also speaks of the dangers of a real estate boom.
The paradox is: On the one hand, living space in China’s big cities is no longer affordable for many people, on the other hand, entire suburbs are almost empty. According to China’s statistics agency, the urban population has already grown to more than 700 million people. For the first time in the history of China, more people live in cities than in rural areas.
Prime Minister Li Keqiang has stated several times that the government wants to promote urbanization. With this, the government wants to drive domestic consumption in order to secure economic growth in the long term. The problem with this: Many new places that have sprung up from the ground have to court every resident.
Without schools, hospitals or theaters, the new quarters could hardly attract people, says Johannes Dell, head of ASP’s China branch: “If nobody lives there, no business can open. And if no business opens, no one wants to live there. ” Ultimately, the municipalities and city governments would have to spend money on the necessary infrastructure.
Better infrastructure should attract people
That’s happening in Anting right now. The Shanghai subway line 11 has stopped in Anting since October. From September 2015 on there will be a school up to the ninth grade in the village. At the same time, the gigantic housing prices are driving people from downtown Shanghai to the city limits – and thus to Anting too. Up to 25,000 people could live in the completed apartment blocks. So far, according to the administration, there are only 7,000.
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Anting thus stands for a ray of hope of how the People’s Republic could still avoid a real estate crisis. In the vicinity of metropolises in particular, there is great hope that the ghost towns will still attract many residents, suspects Professor Liu Yuanchun from the Beijing People’s University. “While China’s megacities are getting crowded, small and medium-sized cities can benefit from the developments. It is clear which places people will choose.”
For Hannelore Kraft (SPD), the switch to renewable energies must not come at the expense of jobs and affordable energy: “It is important that we preserve industrial jobs in our state,” the North Rhine-Westphalian Prime Minister made her priorities clear. Now environmentalists are storming: For them, Kraft’s initiative is nothing less than an attempt to undo the energy transition.
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“That would be a betrayal of your own idea,” Andree Böhling from Greenpeace criticized t-online.de. It aims to ensure that the SPD should bear responsibility “in fatherhood or motherhood” for the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) that was also initiated. “Now it’s being portrayed as if renewables are the problem, but they are the goal.” Signals from the Union that it wants to maintain coal-fired power stations in the long term would be strengthened if comrades also pursue such intentions.
The energy working group wanted to meet on Thursday in the Federal Environment Ministry. Kraft represents the Social Democrats in the coalition negotiations. But is she really fighting for the SPD’s position? “In the coalition negotiations on the subject of energy, the coal lobby sits right at the negotiating table,” says Green Party leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt. “Union and SPD are preparing a coalition to block the energy transition.”
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“We refuse if the coal-fired power generation should be made economically more interesting again with additional subsidies,” warns the chairman of the Federation for Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (BUND), Hubert Weiger, to the German press agency before the first black meeting -red negotiating group.
Corporations threaten to cut jobs
The large energy and steel companies from North Rhine-Westphalia had threatened to cut jobs if their demands for subsidies were not met, reports the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”. The electricity company RWE had plans to prematurely close the Garzweiler II open-cast lignite mine, which would have cost at least 10,000 jobs.
Thyssen-Krupp made steel production in Duisburg dependent on the fact that the heavily reduced electricity prices for large consumers would remain. Party associations of federal states in which mining is carried out are, according to Böhling, always a problem because they lean too much on the interests of corporations – “as in the case of North Rhine-Westphalia and RWE”. Kraft operates clientele policy for the energy giant.
“Keeping an eye on the company”
And indeed: Kraft’s Minister of Economic Affairs, Garrelt Duin (SPD), promptly called for subsidies for the operators of fossil-fuel power plants as well as a reduction in the rate of expansion for wind and solar energy. RWE also needs reliability, said Kraft. “It is crucial that, in addition to security of supply, we also keep an eye on prices for consumers and companies.”
The Prime Minister is likely to have also had the NRW municipalities in view, which hold 25 percent of the shares in Germany’s second largest supplier RWE and have less money in the coffers with less returns in the RWE power plants.