Story: Economic history

Real value of exports and imports, 1857–2003 (1st of 2)

Real value of exports and imports, 1857–2003

These graphs show the course of exports and imports over time, presented in year-2000 dollars. Initially the value of merchandise imports was a very high proportion of estimated gross domestic product (GDP) as the country borrowed heavily. Imports far exceeded exports. But from about 1890, as refrigeration boosted the exports of meat and then dairy products, the value of exports rose. It was 20–30% of GDP in any five-year period. In the 30 years from 1890 to 1920 merchandise exports exceeded imports by a considerable margin, but in the 1920s and early 1930s the excess was much lower. The late 1930s and 1940s saw a recovery, but in the post-war era from 1950 merchandise exports and imports were close to balance. There was a period in the late 1970s when imports clearly exceeded the value of exports, and again from about 2000 there was another deficit.

These figures do not include the cost of servicing foreign debt and investments, nor many service payments, so that current payments usually exceeded revenue, and the current account of the balance of payments was typically in deficit. When this happened New Zealand had to borrow offshore to cover the gap.

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How to cite this page:

Brian Easton, 'Economic history - Refrigeration, dairying and the Liberal boom', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 29 September 2023)

Story by Brian Easton, published 11 Mar 2010