New Zealand's merchandise exports rose to their highest ever level for a November month as the country benefited from rising prices for dairy exports.

Goods exports jumped 20 per cent to $4.6 billion in November from the period last year, the highest ever level for the month, said to Statistics New Zealand.

Exports of milk powder, butter and cheese led the rise, gaining 22 per cent, or $262 million, to $1.5b.

New Zealand is the world's largest exporter of dairy products and has benefited from an increase in global dairy prices, boosting payouts to farmers and stoking the local economy.


The latest gains were price led, with exports of butter up 79 per cent in value but down 2 per cent in volume, while milk powder was up 13 per cent in value but 9.1 per cent lower in volume, and milk and cream increased 122 per cent in value and 43 per cent in quantity.

Exports of meat and edible offal, the country's second-largest commodity export, rose 47 per cent, or $160 million, to $499m, led by a $92m increase in lamb exports, Stats NZ said.

Meanwhile, exports of logs, wood and wood articles, the third-largest group, gained 50 per cent to $484m, as the quantity of rough logs exported rose 40 per cent.

Exports to China, New Zealand's largest market, jumped 43 per cent in November to $1.2b, led by a 54 per cent increase in dairy products, an 87 per cent rise in logs, wood and wood articles, and a 153 per cent rise in lamb.

Goods exports to Australia, the second-largest market, lifted 3.6 per cent to $762m, with increases across a range of commodities, including food preparations such as infant formula, and milk powder, butter and cheese.

On the other side of the ledger, goods imports into New Zealand rose 27 per cent to a record $5.8b.

Mechanical machinery and equipment led the rise, up 50 per cent, or $285m, to $854m due to increased shipments of parts of turbo-jets and turbo-propellers, computers and diggers. Imports of aircraft and parts jumped $268m, due to the importation of a large aircraft.

Vehicles, parts and accessories rose 18 per cent, or $127m, to $836m. The value of car imports reached a new high of $513m and there were 26,700 passenger motor cars imported in November, including 140 new electric cars and about 170 used electric cars, Stats NZ said.


New Zealand had a monthly trade deficit of $1.2b, compared with an average of $447m for the previous five November months.

Stats NZ noted that monthly trade deficits can be significantly affected by large value import items such as aircraft, and excluding those items the November deficit would have been $930m.

Stats NZ said the trade-weighted index has fallen 6.2 per cent from November 2016. That makes imported goods and services more expensive domestically but makes exports to foreign markets cheaper.

The annual trade deficit for the year ended November was $3.4b, up from the $3b shortfall in October and $3.2bn in November last year. Annual goods imports were valued at $56b, ahead of the $51.7b a year earlier, while annual exports increased to $52.5b from $48.5b.