Record kiwifruit exports boost NZ overall exports in April

New Zealand kiwifruit in a Shanghai China supermarket. Photo by Bernard Hickey

A record month for kiwifruit exports helped push the country's overall exports in April to the second-highest level ever, according to monthly trade data released today.

Kiwifruit exports surged 82 percent in April to $438 million, a new high for any month, Statistics New Zealand said. The rise in kiwifruit exports was the leading contributor to a 7.3 percent lift in overall goods exports for April to $5.1 billion, the second-highest for any month after December 2017's record $5.5 billion, the statistics agency said.

The fruit is New Zealand's fastest-growing horticultural export and the Ministry for Primary Industries is forecasting more growth in the next two years, with exports slated to reach $1.8 billion in 2019. Zespri, the country's kiwifruit marketing body, is aiming for $4.5 billion of global sales by 2025, with faster growth picked to come from its more profitable gold kiwifruit.

“Kiwifruit exports were up for all New Zealand’s principal kiwifruit markets - China, the European Union, and Japan,” Stats NZ international statistics manager Tehseen Islam said in a statement. “In April, the first month of the export season, the gold variety made up nearly three-quarters of the total value of kiwifruit exports.”

Across all markets, gold kiwifruit was up $148 million, or 86 percent, in value compared with April 2017, led by an $85 million increase to China, Stats NZ said. Green kiwifruit also rose, up $50 million or 83 percent, led by a $25 million increase to the European Union.

Annual exports of kiwifruit lifted 9 percent to $1.9 billion in the year ended April 2018.

The other main contributors to April’s export rise were meat and edible offal, which lifted 15 percent, or $94 million, to $723 million, and milk powder, butter, and cheese exports which advanced 6.2 percent, or $68 million, to $1.17 billion.

Meat exports were impacted by higher prices for lamb and higher quantities of beef while dairy exports were buoyed by higher prices for butter, the statistics agency said.

Imports also lifted in April, up 15 percent, or $629 million, to reach a new high for the month of $4.8 billion. The leading contributor to the rise was the increased value of petroleum and products, up 56 percent, or $221 million, led by crude oil imports which increased $130 million.

The other main contributors to the higher imports were vehicles, parts, and accessories, which lifted by $179 million, and mechanical machinery and equipment, up $108 million, Stats NZ said.

The monthly trade balance in April was a surplus of $263 million, or 5.2 percent of exports, which is lower than the average monthly surplus in the last five April months of $344 million. The statistics agency revised the deficit for March, the first deficit for the month in a decade, to $156 million from $86 million.

The annual trade deficit for the year ended April was $3.76 billion, compared with a $3.51 billion shortfall in the year to April 2017.

"Looking at the year ahead, we expect the annual trade deficit to narrow," ASB Bank senior rural economist Nathan Penny said in a note. "In particular, we expect agricultural production to increase over the year and to boost export volumes, while export prices remain firm. At the same time, growth in import values is likely to be more subdued as economic growth remains soft over 2018."