German exports to China fell at the start of the year as business hopes for a revival following Beijing's lifting of strict measures to control COVID-19 were not fulfilled.

While total German exports increased by 7.4% from January to March to more than 398 billion euros ($438.12 billion), shipments to China fell by 12.0% year-on-year to 24.1 billion euros, according to preliminary estimates from the German statistics office seen by Reuters.

Max Zenglein, chief economist at the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), said Germany's exports to China could have "reached their zenith".

The share of exports to China of the total of German exports, is likely to "settle at a lower level," Zenglein said. The share is currently at around 6%, having reached at some points 8%.

"The economic recovery this time will mainly depend on consumers and services and is likely to bypass many German exporters," he said.

Since the Chinese government lifted COVID restrictions at the end of 2022, Chinese people are travelling again, going out and spending more on clothes.

That helped its economy to grow strongly in the first quarter, with gross domestic product rising 4.5% compared with the same period of 2022.

Sentiment among German exporters has also rebounded, largely because of hopes of increased demand from China.

($1 = 0.9084 euros) (Reporting by Rene Wagner. Writing by Maria Martinez. Editing by Barbara Lewis)