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Surging dairy exports underpinned New Zealand's trade surplus in December, as primarily Chinese demand for milk products lifted overall exports.
The trade balance was a surplus of $523 million in December, in line with expectations, from a surplus of $183 million in November, and $535 million a year earlier, according to Statistics New Zealand. The total value of exports rose 16 percent to $4.76 billion in December from a year earlier, underpinned by a 48 percent gain in foreign sales of milk powder, butter and cheese to $1.89 billion. Imports rose 19 percent to $4.24 billion.
The annual trade balance was a deficit of $259 million in 2013, narrowing the $1.16 billion shortfall in 2012. Annual exports rose 4.4 percent to $48.09 billion, and imports increased 2.9 percent to $48.35 billion.
High commodity prices are one of the factors supporting New Zealand's strong economic momentum, with seemingly insatiable Chinese demand for dairy products.
China became the country's biggest trading partner in 2013, toppling Australia in November, taking annual exports of $9.96 billion compared to $6.86 billion in 2012, and delivering imports of $8.26 billion, up from $7.71 billion a year earlier. Monthly exports to China jumped 67 percent to $1.36 billion in December.
Exports to Australia fell 8.3 percent to $778 million in December from a year earlier, while sales to the US slipped 3.2 percent to $379 million.
Annual exports of milk powder, butter and cheese climbed 176 percent to $13.41 billion, while casein and caseinates rose an annual 8.2 percent to $949 million. They account for about 30 percent of the country's total exports.
Meat and edible offal exports rose 4 percent to $472 million for an annual lift of 2.2 percent to $5.28 billion. Logs, wood and wood articles exports advanced 28 percent to $345 million for an annual increase of 22 percent to $3.86 billion.
Exports of crude oil, which were the fourth biggest commodity sold in 2012, dropped 22 percent to $1.44 billion in 2013, making it the sixth biggest commodity.
New Zealand imports of petroleum and products fell 2.5 percent in 2013 to $8.13 billion, while vehicles, parts and accessories rose 13 percent to $5.83 billion. Mechanical machinery and equipment imports were flat at $6.06 billion in the year.