China overtakes Australia as NZ’s biggest export market

The March trade surplus almost twice the $373m forecast.

China has overtaken Australia as New Zealand's biggest export market for the first time, buying more meat, dairy products and pine logs, while shipments across the Tasman have fallen.

New Zealand's trade surplus was $718 million last month for an annual deficit of $520 million, according to Statistics New Zealand. The monthly surplus was almost twice the $373 million forecast in a Reuters survey and the annual gap is smaller than the forecast deficit of $970 million.

In the first quarter, exports to China jumped 32 percent to $2.3 billion and imports rose 2.8 percent to $1.8 billion, outpacing trade with nearest neighbour Australia, which took $2.2 billion of New Zealand's exports, down 7.3 percent, and sent $1.5 billion of its produce across the Tasman (down 5.3 percent).

The rise of China to New Zealand's biggest trading partner underlines the importance of high-level delegations to Beijing, such as business and cultural mission led by Prime Minister John Key this month.

Exports to China have more than tripled since the signing of a free-trade agreement in 2008, while it is the largest source of foreign students and one of the fastest-growing sources of tourists.

The New Zealand dollar ticked up to 85.07 US cents after the trade data was released, from 84.96 cents immediately before.

Total exports in March from the same month last year rose 5.1 percent to $4.4 billion, led by an 18 percent rise in meat and edible offal.

Exports of logs, wood and wood articles rose 28 percent to $336 million, led by pine logs. Shipments of milk powder, butter and cheese were little changed, rising 0.1 percent, while petroleum products other than crude oil fell 89 percent.

Imports fell 7.9 percent to $3.7 billion. Petroleum product imports fell 14 percent, mainly reflected a decline in crude oil, mechanical machinery declined 10 percent and vehicles rose 4.1 percent.


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