Ports of Auckland, the country's second-largest by volume, has agreed to buy a plot of land north of Hamilton to develop a freight hub, which it says will complete its network across the North Island.

The council-owned port operator signed a conditional agreement to buy 33 hectares of land at the Northgate Business Park, which sits beside the main North Island rail trunk line and is near State Highway 1, providing a direct link to the company's other freight hubs, it said in a statement.

The hub will provide Waikato-based exporters greater access to international markets, and lower their transport costs using the port operator's network.

"Waikato will complete our North Island freight hub network, complementing our existing sites in Manawatu, Bay of Plenty, and Wiri, South Auckland," chief executive Tony Gibson said. "The key benefit of our freight hub network is that it can be used to balance freight flows around the North Island and eliminate unnecessary movement of empty containers."

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Auckland is predominantly an import port, servicing the Auckland market and surrounding areas.

The Auckland and Tauranga ports have looked at merging their operations twice over the past decade, but that ultimately fell through when the parties weren't able to agree on how to proceed.

Since then, they have been locked in intense competition, and more recently have been extending their national reach through deals with smaller hubs and logistics groups to tie up New Zealand's flow of freight, largely through inland hubs.

Ports of Auckland plans to increase its use of rail to 30 percent of traffic to the company's Waitemata port in Auckland from the current 13 percent level, which it anticipates will "generate huge infrastructure savings at a national level," Gibson said.

It didn't say how much it would pay for the land.

Last year the company reported a 15 percent drop in annual profit to $63.2 million as the port operator recognised $7.3 million in costs related to the Bledisloe Wharf extension after the resource consents were quashed by the High Court.