New Zealand's balance of trade continued to show relative strength as high world prices for traditional export commodities held up and imports remained subdued.

For the month of August, Statistics New Zealand reported a trade deficit of $641 million, or 19 per cent of the value of exports, compared with an average monthly deficit for August at 27 per cent of exports in the previous five years.

For the year to August, the country continued to report a surplus, at $1.1 billion, compared with $873 million in the year to August 2010 and a longer term pattern of deficits for August years, averaging around 10 per cent of exports.

Total imports were up 15 per cent for the month of August, compared to the same month a year earlier, at $4.1 million, led by petroleum and products, while exports were up 10 per cent to $3.4 billion, led by increases of around $70 million each in receipts from meat, crude oil and dairy commodities.


"The trend for import values has been flat since March 2011," the official statistician said in a statement. "The trend in export values has increased 26 per cent since its most recent low point in October 2009."

China was the largest market for increased export receipts, up 47 per cent ($117 million) in August, led by log exports; exports to Australia were up 12 per cent, thanks primarily to crude oil exports for refining across the Tasman.

Gold kiwifruit helped push exports to South Korea up 30 per cent, or $28 million, while the US showed the largest decrease, down 9.8 per cent, spread across several commodities.

Imports from China were also up the most from any country, increasing 14 per cent in a month when KiwiRail took delivery of new Chinese-built rolling stock, while an 8.2 per cent increase in imports from Australia was led by cereals and raw sugar.