New Zealand fruit exports have been the shining star of commodities over the past year, countering a weak period for exports of dairy products.

The country's merchandise exports advanced 2 per cent to $49.34 billion in the 12 months ended June 30, Statistics New Zealand said. Fruit, the country's fourth-largest export commodity, jumped 31 per cent to $2.63 billion, while dairy exports, the largest group, declined 7.3 per cent to $11.16 billion, the agency said.

Fruit exports are going through a purple patch as previous investment in developing markets and varieties starts to pay off. The $617 million gain in annual fruit exports eclipsed a $250 million rise in forestry product exports and a $237 million increase in meat exports. The increase in annual fruit exports was led by kiwifruit, which set a new record, up 41 per cent to $1.7 billion, while apple exports increased 23 per cent.

ANZ rural economist Con Williams said the apple industry has developed new trademarked varieties that are favoured by higher returning Asian market, and the kiwifruit industry is more weighted towards the golden varieties which face less competitive pressure and are preferred in Asian countries for the sweeter taste, helping lift price premiums. That contrasts with the country's dairy and meat industries, which have tended to position themselves as lower-cost producers, he said.

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The data show annual merchandise imports advanced 2.5 per cent to $52.65 billion, resulting in an annual trade deficit of $3.31 billion, in line with a Reuters poll of economists. That's wider than the $2.98 billion annual deficit a year earlier.

For the month of June, exports rose 2.6 per cent to $4.26 billion from the same month a year earlier, as fruit exports gained 30 per cent, Statistics NZ said. Kiwifruit led the rise as the value increased 47 per cent and the volume rose 32 per cent. Gold kiwifruit rose 65 per cent in value and 49 per cent in quantity, while green kiwifruit lifted 28 per cent in value and 21 per cent in quantity.

Imports in the June month declined 4.6 per cent to $4.13 billion, led by a 12 per cent drop in intermediate goods. Processed industrial supplies, such as fertiliser, soya bean oil cake and palm oil cake, dropped 3.7 per cent; primary industrial supplies excluding food and beverages, such as calcium phosphates, dropped 37 per cent, while crude oil declined 24 per cent, Statistics NZ said.

The trade surplus for the month was $127 million.

See the full release from Statistics NZ here: