Overseas Merchandise Trade

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Overseas Merchandise Trade statistics provide statistical information on the importing and exporting of merchandise goods between New Zealand and other countries. Merchandise trade includes goods which add to or subtract from the material resources in New Zealand as a result of their movement in or out of the country. Data is obtained from export and import entry documents lodged with the New Zealand Customs Service (NZCS).


The purpose of Overseas Merchandise Trade statistics is to provide statistical information on the importing and exporting of merchandise goods between New Zealand and other countries

Citation Information


Overseas Merchandise Trade

Alternate Title

External Trade Merchandise Trade Exports and Imports Trade


Statistics New Zealand: International and Business Performance Statistics


Statistics New Zealand


Statistics New Zealand

Coverage Information

Temporal Coverage

  • 1951 to present

Topical Coverage

  • International trade and balance of payments



Significant events impacting this study series


Export and import totals first became available in 1826.


In 1855 country data for Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, also became available.

From the late 1800s, more country data became available.


The Customs Department compiled the export and import statistics until the end of 1961.


In 1962 the Statistics Department began compiling the export and import statistics.

From 1 July 1962 to 30 June 1967, the New Zealand Customs Tariff was arranged in accordance with the Standard International Trade Classification (Revised). The statistics were published in an identical arrangement of the SITC (Revised).


On 1 July 1967, a new Customs Tariff became effective and was based on a completely different classification - the Brussels Tariff Nomenclature (BTN).

Statistics were published according to the BTN (as adapted for New Zealand trade) and the SITC. The SITC was identical to the BTN at the international four digit level, but adapted to New Zealand requirements at the seven digit level.

In July 1978, the Customs Co-operation Council Nomenclature (CCCN) was introduced as the classification for the collection from source documentation and the standard International Trade Classification Revision 2 (SITC Revision 2) for the publication of the data.

Both these classifications were the expanded versions of the previously used BTN and SITC Revised, respectively.


CASPER (Customs and Statistics processing of entries and retrieval system) - an automated system for capturing import data - was introduced in 1981 . Export data entries were still recorded on paper.


In 1986 the minimum value of export/import entries that were processed increased from $200 to $1,000.


Until 31 December 1987, exports and imports were recorded using the CCCN (Customs Co-operation Council Nomenclature). They were subsequently converted on a one-to-one basis to the New Zealand Statistical Classification of export/imports.

Both statistical classifications were based on the SITC (Revision 2).


From 1 January 1988 the international Harmonised System (HS) replaced the CCCN, and the SITC (Revision 2) was replaced by the SITC (Revision 3). From that date, the domestic HS customs tariff catered for both exports and imports.

The HS customs tariff used a 10 digit numeric and one digit alpha code to identify commodities at the statistical key (lowest) level and contained approximately 12,500 items.


Effective from the January 1996 reference month, nearly 2,000 commodity codes in the New Zealand Harmonised System Classification (HS) were changed.


In July 1997 the New Zealand Customs Service (NZCS) introduced its newly integrated information technology system. The Customs Modernisation project (CusMod) covered not only importing and exporting but also passenger clearance, revenue collection, and intelligence analysis. The major effect of the CusMod system on Trade statistics was new EDI export entries and enhanced import entries.

Since August 1997, exports have been recorded by month of export. This change was made when the NZCS introduced new processing systems. Exports up to July 1997 that were not processed until August 1997 fell between the old and new recording systems. To keep these exports in trade statistics they were assigned to the month of August 1997. Imports are still recorded in the calendar month in which documents are processed by NZCS.


The New Zealand Harmonised System Classification (NZHSC) was revised to incorporate changes circulated by the World Customs Organisation (WCO). At the 10-digit commodity code level, 1,147 new codes were introduced while 909 codes became obsolete. Most code changes were effective from the January 2002 reference month. Changes to HS Chapters 48, 97 and 98 were delayed until the April 2002 reference month.


Effective from 1 January 2007, the NZHSC was substantially revised to reflect changes made to the HS by the WCO. There were a considerable number of changes at the four, six and 10 digit levels of the classification, resulting in some change of coverage in 16 HS chapters: 28, 29, 30, 32, 35, 37, 38, 39, 41, 43, 60, 69, 74, 84, 85 and 90. These changes create some discontinuity in time series between data up to December 2006 and that from January 2007 onwards. It is impossible to estimate the extent of the change in values but it is expected to be minimal at the chapter level.

SITC (Revision 3) was replaced by the SITC (Revision 4), which concords to the most recent versions of the Harmonised System (HS2002 and HS2007).


The New Zealand Standard Trade Classification – Level of Processing (LOP) was approved in 2008 as a standard output classification for publishing overseas trade data. Its purpose is to indicate the level of processing that occurs to New Zealand’s imports and exports, and whether value is being added to products domestically or overseas. The LOP classification was developed by Statistics NZ's overseas trade team in response to requests for this type of data breakdown from public and private sector stakeholders.


In November 2010 the estimation process for the seasonally adjusted and trend series for imports and exports was updated. The estimates are based on data from March 1999, whereas previously data from January 1988 was used. This is to ensure that the time series outputs are not unduly influenced by data from too far in the past. As a result the series before March 1999 is no longer subject to revision.

The 23-month fixed filter that was used for the trend estimation for exports was removed. Due to these changes it is expected that the trend series will generally be able to indicate turning points earlier.


Effective from 1 January 2012, the NZHSC was substantially revised to reflect changes made to the HS by the wCO. At the 10-digit commodity code level, 1,468 new codes were introduced and 1,050 codes became obsolete. All HS code changes were effective from the January 2012 reference month. For information on the HS2012 changes, see www.stats.govt.nz/trade-hs2012.


2) Monthly

Usage and limitations of the data

Uses of Overseas Trade Data

To help make business decisions To enable representative organisations to protect the interests of their members To make policy decisions To identify potential new export markets To monitor the performance of the New Zealand economy To examine trade trends To compile key economic indicators such as the Balance of Payments and National Accounts

Limitations of Overseas Trade Data

Considerable reliance is placed on exporters/importers and their agents providing correct data, but before it is compiled and released by Statistics New Zealand it is validated and detected errors are corrected. The focus of these checks is to authenticate the publication of trade data by harmonised system chapter level (two digit HS) and country totals in the monthly Statistics NZ information releases. Overseas merchandise trade data is available at lower levels of aggregation down to 10 digit HS code in many cases via Infoshare. Care should be taken in using trade data below the two digit HS chapter level or any of the lower levels within other trade classifications, as it may contain errors or omissions which have not been detected by editing processes within Statistics NZ.

The apportioned gross weight field is an estimate only and should be treated with caution. The need for estimation arises because gross weight is received at total consignment level (the total entry), rather than for each item (each line in an entry). We apportion this total gross weight across each item in the entry. This provides us with an estimated gross weight in kg for all lines, including those whose kg weight is supplied.

The only aggregates that include the confidential codes are total exports, total imports, and the total exports and imports by country. Refer to the section above in general information on confidential items for more detail.

Main users of the data

Exporters Importers Manufacturers’ associations Manufacturers Customs agents Government departments Trade NZ Reserve Bank of NZ Trading banks Economic forecasters Producer boards Trade commissioners and embassies Trade promotion councils

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