Fuel imports drove New Zealand's annual trade deficit to its highest level in 11 years in 2018.

The annual deficit was $5.86 billion versus an annual deficit of $2.85 billion in the year to December 2017, in line with economists' expectations. Exports lifted 7.2 percent on the year to $57.5 billion while imports were $63.4 billion, up 12 percent on the year.

"The lift in total imports in 2018 reflects large rises in the value of imported petrol and crude oil, as world prices reached high levels in the second half of the year," international statistics manager Tehseen Islam said. It was the biggest deficit since the October 2007 year.

The value of imported petroleum and products for the December 2018 year was $7.7 billion, up $2.4 billion or 44 per cent compared with the prior 12 months.

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Exports of meat and logs led the rise in exports. For the December 2018 year, the value of meat exports increased 12 per cent to $7.4 billion. Logs, wood, and wood articles rose 13 per cent to $5.2 billion.

Milk powder, butter, and cheese, the largest export commodity group, rose 2.5 per cent to $14.3 billion from 2017.

Exports to China lifted 15.2 per cent on the year to $13.9 billion while exports to Australia rose 3.9 per cent to $9.2 billion. Imports from China rose 14.8 per cent to $12.5 billion while imports from Australia lifted 5.2 per cent to $7.3 billion.

The December trade deficit was a seasonally adjusted $155 million, as exports lifted 6.2 per cent to $5.2 billion and imports were up 0.4 per cent at $5.3 billion.

In actual terms, there was a trade surplus of $264 million in December versus a surplus of $614 million a year earlier. Imports were up 6.6 per cent to $5.2 billion, lifted by higher petroleum and product imports while exports were down 0.5 per cent to $5.5 billion in actual terms.

- BusinessDesk