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The Globe and Mail

Greek exports jump, swell euro zone trade surplus

An EU and a Greek flag fly in front of ancient Parthenon temple, in Athens, Sunday, June 17, 2012.

Petros Giannakouris/AP

Exports from Greece and Portugal, where years of credit-fuelled imports saddled the countries with huge debts, grew strongly in the first eight months of this year and lifted the euro zone's trade surplus, in a sign of hope for southern Europe.

The 17 countries sharing the euro posted a €9.8-billion ($12.5-billion U.S.) trade surplus with the rest of the world in September, more than five times the level in the same month a year ago, the EU's statistics office Eurostat said on Friday.

Exports are one of the few sources of growth in the euro zone, which slipped into recession in the third quarter, and that is evident in the indebted countries of southern Europe.

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Despite recession in Italy, Spain and Portugal and a depression in Greece, all four increased their exports in the January-to-August period, year-on-year, while imports fell.

That signals a reshaping of their economies, particularly for Portugal and Greece, which have been bailed out by the euro zone and the International Monetary Fund.

After a decade of imports and consumption with borrowed money, the countries are exporting again.

Exports from Greece rose 11 per cent in the first eight months of the year and imports fell 13 per cent. In Portugal, exports rose 10 per cent while imports slid 5 per cent.

Adjusted for seasonal factors, Greece's exports grew 9.7 per cent in September this year from August, the biggest jump of all the countries in the currency bloc.

Germany accounts for more than half of all the euro zone's exports and its foreign sales rose 5 per cent in the January-to-August period, on a non-seasonally adjusted basis.

However, the weakness of imports in the much larger German and French economies points to falling domestic demand as the euro zone sinks into the recession brought on by the sovereign debt crisis.

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Imports grew just 2 per cent in Germany in the first eight months of the year, according to the data that was not adjusted for seasonal swings. In France imports were up only 3 per cent.

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