BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany would take advantage of any trade opportunities in Asia and South America left by a protectionist United States, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said, after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

"If Trump starts a trade war with Asia and South America, it will open opportunities for us," Gabriel told Handelsblatt newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday.

"Trump must simply recognize that the U.S. economy often isn't competitive, while the German (economy) is," he said, criticizing Trump's threat to impose a 35 percent tariff on German cars imported from Mexico.

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Trump signed an executive order formally withdrawing from the 12-nation TPP on Monday, following through on a promise made during his election campaign. He called the move a "great thing for the American worker".

Gabriel - Economy Minister and leader of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who is expected to run against Chancellor Angela Merkel in September's election - said German industry should remain confident in the face of Trump's moves.

Barely 10 percent of German exports go to the United States, Gabriel said, while 60 percent go to other countries in Europe.

"You can see the weight of our economic interests," said Gabriel. "Germany should act with self-confidence and not be fearful or servile."

"We are a highly successful, technologically advanced export nation with many hard-working people and smart companies."

Bernd Lange, a Social Democrat and chairman of the trade committee in the European Parliament, told broadcaster rbb that Germany and the European Union should look into expanding trade with China and other countries.

"We must certainly speak with China because it is trying to jump into the gap left by the United States, even if they have other practices," he said.

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Lange said the European Union should also push for closer ties with countries that had similar values, including Canada, Japan and Australia.

He said he expected the European Parliament to approve a free trade agreement with Canada by a large majority.

(Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Louise Ireland)