Kōrero: South Pacific economic relations

Whārangi 3. The balance of trade

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Imports from the Pacific Islands

New Zealand has never had a large amount of trade with the Pacific. From the 1890s to 1920 about 4% of New Zealand’s imports (by value) came from the islands – apart from a brief rise to 6% during the First World War, when imports from Europe slowed. From the 1920s until 1980 around 1% of imports came from the islands, again with a brief increase during and after the Second World War.

Once sugar and phosphate imports ended, only fruit and vegetables were bought from the islands. By the late 1990s the proportion of imports sourced from the Pacific had fallen to 0.5%. In the early 2000s New Zealand imported a few niche products from the islands such as tailored clothing from Fiji.

Importing fruit

There have been many attempts to set up a commercially viable fruit-import trade to New Zealand from its Pacific territories. The New Zealand government heavily subsidised banana exports from Samoa from the 1920s to 1940s, citrus from the Cook Islands in the 1950s and 1960s, and bananas from Aitutaki and passionfruit from Niue in the 1980s. However, none of these efforts remained commercially viable because of small-scale production, natural hazards such as hurricanes, and high shipping costs.

Exports to the islands

Only 1% of New Zealand’s exports were sent to the South Pacific between the 1890s and the early 1950s. However, the region did become a significant export market for certain New Zealand products. For example, the high-quality meat exported to developed countries has fatty low-quality by-products which have become favourites throughout the Pacific. Canned corned beef first entered the Polynesian and Fijian markets in the 1920s, and sales boomed after the Second World War. Later, in the 1970s and 1980s, exports of lamb and mutton flaps to the islands took off. After reaching a peak of 3.9% of total exports in 1983, the proportion fell below 3% in the mid-1990s and has remained there since.

Shipping links with the Pacific

From 1926 to 1975 the New Zealand government owned and operated its own ship (the Hinemoa, 1926–28; Maui Pomare, 1928–60 and Moana Roa, 1960–75) for the Niue and Cook Islands trade. Other ships were chartered to maintain contact between Tokelau and Samoa. For many years after this, government subsidies were paid to the New Zealand–Cook Islands Joint Shipping Service and the Pacific Forum Line to keep trade moving. Ships trading with the islands also included the Union Steam Ship Company vessels Tofua and Tahiti, which carried fruit and passengers throughout the South Pacific from 1908 until the 1970s.

These shipping links stopped small island territories becoming isolated from outside markets. However, the cost of subsidies was large relative to the value of the goods carried. From the 1990s shipping subsidies were phased out. This, and the high cost of air freight, has contributed to the low level of imports from the Pacific.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Geoff Bertram, 'South Pacific economic relations - The balance of trade', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/south-pacific-economic-relations/page-3 (accessed 15 December 2019)

He kōrero nā Geoff Bertram, i tāngia i te 11 Mar 2010