New Zealand's monthly trade deficit widened to a record in September as meat exports dropped to their lowest level in more than three years.

The country's trade deficit expanded to $1.44 billion in September, from $1.14b a year earlier, Statistics New Zealand said.

Exports fell 5.7 per cent to $3.47b, led by a 35 per cent decline in meat and edible offal exports to $281 million, the lowest monthly reading since August 2013. That pushed meat exports down to third place in the monthly rankings, behind wood, although it remains in second place on an annual basis.

Imports advanced 1.8 per cent to $4.9b, boosted by the importation of aircraft in the month. Excluding aircraft imports from the total, imports fell 0.8 per cent to $4.7b, the statistics agency said.


The meat export market is retreating from highs reached last year, when beef exports hit a record as a shortage in the US pushed up prices. In the latest monthly data for September, the value of beef exports fell 35 per cent from a year earlier amid increased beef supply in the US, while lamb exports sank 39 per cent amid subdued demand in the UK. A higher New Zealand dollar is also weighing on exports, making local goods more expensive in international markets, analysts said.

Exports of milk powder, butter and cheese slid 1.2 per cent to $616m, while the quantity rose 16 per cent, Statistics NZ said. Milk powder fell 1.9 per cent in value while the quantity rose 19 per cent, reflecting price declines. Milk fats, including butter, slipped 3.4 per cent in value and 4.7 per cent in quantity while cheese gained 21 per cent in value and 77 per cent in quantity.

Fruit, the fourth-largest commodity export, increased 44 per cent to $228m while the quantity advanced 56 per cent. Kiwifruit led the rise, with the value up 46 per cent and the volume up 58 per cent.

Wood exports advanced 17 per cent to $347m while the quantity increased 19 per cent, the agency said.

On an annual basis, the country's trade deficit was $3.4b, compared with an annual deficit of $3.17b in September last year. Annual exports totalled $48.58b in the year through September, while imports totalled $51.99b, according to the data.