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Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has dinner near the Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium, January 12, 2017. REUTERS/David Stockman/pool

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PERL-NENNIG, Germany (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday urged the United States to stick to multilateral cooperation, saying a trend towards protectionism was a risk to prosperity.

The United States is Germany's most important trading partner and the protectionist rhetoric of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has unnerved exporters in Europe's biggest economy.

Germany holds the presidency of the G20 leading economies this year, a platform Merkel wants to use to safeguard multilateral cooperation.

Speaking after a meeting of senior members of her centre-right CDU party in the western German town of Perl-Nennig, Merkel said all countries were better off if they worked together instead of isolating themselves.

A good example was the international response after the global financial crisis that started in the United States in 2008, Merkel said.

"The response to the financial crisis was not a response that was based on isolation, but a response that was based on cooperation, on common rules of regulation, including the financial markets," Merkel said.

Asked when she would meet Trump for the first time, Merkel said a meeting was possible during a summit of the Group of Seven leading economic powers, which takes place in Sicily in May, and the G20 summit that Germany is hosting in July.

In her weekly podcast, Merkel said the German economy was doing "relatively well" but should not rest on its laurels. She urged companies to adapt to the challenge of digitisation.

"There are also international risks. We see protectionist tendencies," Merkel said, without naming Trump.

Business leaders have said the German economy could suffer from a protectionist U.S. trade policy, and that growth could be dented.

The economy grew by 1.9 percent in 2016, the fastest pace in five years, as rising private and state spending helped to cement its position as the locomotive of the euro zone.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Michael Nienaber; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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