The former West Germany has for many years benefited from a highly skilled population that enjoys a high standard of living and an extensive social welfare program. Since unification, however, Germany has faced the economic challenge of transforming the former East Germany from a deteriorating command economy dependent on low-quality heavy industrial products to a technologically advanced market economy. Unemployment in the east has remained consistently higher than that in the west, and although several larger urban centers there have begun to revive economically, most E German industrial cities remain depressed. Since the postwar years, the German economy has emphasized management-labor consensus, which, while generally avoiding labor strife, has also created a relatively inflexible labor environment where employers are reluctant to hire more than the minimum required number of skilled workers, since it is difficult to fire them once they are hired.
Manufacturing and service industries are the dominant economic activities; agriculture accounts for about 1% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and occupies about 3% of the workforce. Industries include food and beverage processing, shipbuilding, and the manufacture of iron and steel, chemicals, machinery and machine tools, motor vehicles, electronics, and textiles. Hard coal and lignite are mined. Overall, the principal German agricultural products are potatoes, wheat, barley, rye, sugar beets, cabbage, fruit, and dairy products. Large numbers of cattle, hogs, and poultry are raised. Germany is one of the world's largest exporters; products include machinery, vehicles, chemicals, foodstuffs, and various manufactures. Germany also imports machinery, vehicles, chemicals, and foodstuffs. Its main trading partners are France, the United States, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and Italy.