Concerns of a trade war appear to have eased for many New Zealand exporters as they look ahead to a year of increased international orders.
Half of the respondents in the 2019 ExportNZ DHL Export Barometer report said they experienced increased international orders last year, while 61 per cent said they were optimistic that their overseas orders would increase in the new year.
While 50 per cent of exporters reported an increase in orders over the past 12 months, Mark Foy, DHL Express NZ country manager, said this was the lowest number the freight company had recorded in the last four years of the survey.
About 38 per cent of exporters said the fluctuating New Zealand dollar was the biggest barrier to exports in the year, while 29 per cent said increased costs from industrial regulations, and 28 per cent said strength of overseas competition.
''While increased costs may not have directly affected them personally yet, it's a real concern,'' the survey says.
A low dollar is not all good news for exporters, as many are also importing materials.
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Twenty five per cent of exporters last year said the global trade war between China and the United States was the biggest barrier to exports, compared to 18 per cent of those surveyed this year. The United States, the world's largest importer, started a bitter tariff war with China, the world's largest exporter, last year.
"Uncertainty dents confidence. Exporters have lived with it for a year and they are more confident now that it's not going to have a significant impact, therefore that is following through to their overall confidence," Foy said.
Exporters now perceived escalation of a global trade war as an opportunity for the US or China to import out of New Zealand, he said.
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"Exporters have had a tough 12 months, but they are optimistic about the next 12 months."
Stats NZ figures show for the year ended August, goods exports were valued at $59.1 billion in August up $2.7 billion from the previous year.
The outlook for the year ahead was more positive than sentiment in last year's survey, Foy said, with exporters increasingly looking to develop new products and services, to enter new markets and move online.
"We're seeing a lot of New Zealand businesses, particularly SMEs, who are taking the opportunity to sell their product not only domestically but to Australia and beyond ... we're really seeing the USA become a large market for small SME New Zealanders."
A weak New Zealand dollar and rising costs remain the biggest concerns for exporters in the next 12 months.
"A lot of exporters are also importers," Foy said, "they buy a lot of their raw materials or manufacture offshore, so therefore the dollar fluctuations can impact them [significantly]."
Thirty eight per cent of exporters said the cost of exporting was a major concern - an increase of 13 per cent from 2018, while 29 per cent cited industrial regulation.
Just on half of exporters said they had made an effort to make a positive impact to the environment by using recyclable or biodegradable packaging, removing plastic and utilising electric delivery vehicles.
"The sentiments of Kiwi exporters are upbeat in the face of considerable international uncertainty," ExportNZ executive director, Catherine Beard, said.
"Despite the confidence to manage the uncertainty, there remain strong concerns with staying competitive in the face of increasing industrial relations costs, which weighs on small to medium-sized firms when they make export decisions."
A joint initiative between ExportNZ and DHL, a total of 419 New Zealand exporters were surveyed. The key industry segments were manufacturing, online retail, agriculture, forestry or fishing, professional scientific and technical equipment and transport and storage.