New Zealand widened to a $285 million trade deficit in January with imports rising to a record for the month, led by crude oil.

The monthly trade deficit was worth 7.3 per cent of exports, though that drops to 0.9 per cent, or $36m, when crude oil exports and imports are excluded, Statistics New Zealand said. The country had a $41m trade deficit in December 2016.

Exports rose 0.3 per cent to $3.9 billion from the year earlier month, led by milk powder, butter and cheese which gained 4.5 per cent, while log and wood exports dropped 4 per cent. Milk powder exports, which increased $48m in the month, were led by a $37m gain in exports to China - a 19 per cent value gain despite falling 1.7 per cent by quantity. Butter exports rose 5.5 per cent by value but dropped 20 per cent by quantity. Meat, New Zealand's second-largest export commodity group, rose 2.7 per cent in the month, led by lamb.

China remained the country's top export destination in January, up 12 per cent overall, while exports to Australia rose 13 per cent. Exports to the European Union, the fourth-largest market, dropped 26 per cent with falls from meat, down 32 per cent, and ships and boats.


Imports increased 8 per cent to $4.2b, the highest value for a January month, with all three broad categories - capital goods, intermediate goods and consumption goods - rising. Crude oil imports rose 88 per cent in the month, pushing the intermediate goods category to a 7.2 per cent gain. Excluding crude oil, intermediate goods imports fell 1.5 per cent.

Capital goods imports gained 9.3 per cent, led by machinery and plants and transport equipment. Consumption goods rose 6 per cent.

China also remained the top source for New Zealand's imports, though goods from the country dropped 0.5 per cent to $874m in the month with gains from machinery offset by falls in fertiliser and clothing.

Imports from the EU, the second-largest market, rose 0.6 per cent to $715m, led by a 30 per cent gain on cars, more than half of which were from Germany. US imports gained 14 per cent to $414m, with a rise from machinery and organic chemicals.

On an annual basis, New Zealand had a merchandise trade deficit of $3.5b in the 12 months to the end of January.