Record lamb shipments in May bolster exports to second-highest monthly total

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

Lamb exports hit a new monthly record in May due to a rise in volumes and prices, helping bolster New Zealand's trade balance.

The value of lamb exports reached $369 million in May, exceeding the previous high of $340 million in February 2009, Statistics New Zealand said. Exports of lamb were up in all major markets, including China and the European Union, with the value up 32 percent, or $89 million, and the quantity up 22 percent compared with May last year, Stats NZ said.

A 17 percent gain in meat exports to $812 million was the leading contributor to a 10 percent increase in overall exports to $5.4 billion, which marks the second-highest monthly level of exports after $5.5 billion was shipped overseas in December 2017. Lamb exports led the gain in meat shipments, followed by beef exports, which rose 4.5 percent, or $16 million, to $359 million as higher exports to China were partly offset by a fall to the US.

“It has been a strong month for meat exports in general, with both lamb and beef increasing in quantities,” Stats NZ international statistics manager Tehseen Islam said.

Forestry products had the second-largest increase in exports for May, rising 26 percent, or $99 million, to $477 million with the largest increases recorded to China, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Dairy products, the country's largest commodity export, lifted 3.2 percent to $1.15 billion.

The total value of imports in May rose 5.7 percent, or $277 million, to $5.12 billion as the country imported more cars but fewer petroleum products than a year ago.

Imports of cars rose 17 percent, or $78 million, boosting overall imports of vehicles, parts and accessories by 25 percent, or $185 million, to $924 million compared with the same month last year, Stats NZ said. Mechanical and electrical machinery and equipment were the other main contributors to the imports rise, up 16 percent to $737 million.

In contrast, petroleum and products imports fell 30 percent, or $196 million, to $455 million, led by a $256 million decline in the value of crude oil shipments to $68 million, hitting its lowest value and quantity since May 2005.

New Zealand Refining, operator of the country's only oil refinery, said that a maintenance shutdown at its Marsden Point refinery went into full swing on May 7 with the work scheduled for completion mid-June.

The monthly trade balance in May was a surplus of $294 million, or 5.4 percent of exports, which is higher than the average monthly surplus in the last five May months, the statistics agency said.

The annual trade deficit for the year ended May was $3.6 billion, compared with a $3.8 billion shortfall in the year to May 2017.