March exports show 'record' month, fruit exports up 54 percent - report

NZ  map with shopping basket
Latest export figures show that fruit, meat and dairy exports were between 7.6 and 54 percent higher than in March 2019. Photo credit: Getty.

Latest export figures show that despite the global pandemic New Zealand has no shortage of overseas customers, particularly for golden kiwifruit, meat and dairy.

March data from Statistics New Zealand shows total Kiwi exports reached $5.8 billion, an increase of $215 million (3.8 percent) compared to March 2019, with values of fruit, meat and dairy exports all significantly higher.

Fruit exports were up by $115 million (54 percent) and meat exports were up $102 million (11 percent). Dairy exports including milk powder, butter and cheese were up $106 million (7.6 percent), compared to the same time last year.

Gold kiwifruit exports took a large slice of total fruit exports at $187 million - up $105 million from March 2019.  David Allen, international statistics manager at Statistics New Zealand said that China, the European Union, and Japan had taken over three-quarters of golden kiwifruit export produce for the month.

“The kiwifruit industry is expecting a record harvest and reports strong demand from markets in North Asia,” Allen said.

Kiwibank senior economist Jeremy Couchman said the $672 million trade surplus came close to the market estimate of $686 million. Chinese demand had held up, despite the country giving priority to food imports and other basic necessities, as had demand from the US.

"Exports to China were down on March last year [5.8 percent] largely owing to a fall in exports of logs. 

"[However], there was little evidence of a COVID-19 related hit to the demand from the US [up by 9.4 percent]," Couchman said.

Kiwibank senior trader Mike Shirley said that the trade data had provided a small boost to the New Zealand Dollar, lifting between US$0.5c to US$1c from the mid 0.6000's to just over 0.6100.

"Overnight, we’ve had a few additional chapters added to the US Dollar weakness story: that's elevated the Kiwi [dollar] to heights not seen since mid-March, [e.g. at 9.30am on Thursday] to 0.6138 - the top so far," Shirley said.

During the same month, demand for log exports fell, particularly to China. Forestry exports were down $185 million (35 percent) and crude oil was down $22 million (40 percent).

In an ASB report summarising March exports, senior rural economist Nathan Penny said that the strength of oil imports during the month looks to have been overstated.

"Oil import values were up by nearly 75 percent [$389 million] from a year ago, despite tumbling oil prices.  

"On this basis, we expect weaker import values and subsequently stronger trade balances over coming months," the report said.