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Source: MIL-OSI Submissions

Crude oil imports dry up in July – Media release

26 August 2020

For the first month in almost 34 years, no crude oil was imported into New Zealand in July 2020, with imports of cars and other vehicles also down, Stats NZ said today.

The value of total merchandise goods imports fell $1.0 billion (18 percent) to $4.6 billion in July 2020.

In the past three months, total imports have been very low while exports have been holding up, leading to the smallest annual trade deficit since the October 2014 year.

Crude oil imports have been much lower than usual since May 2020 as demand dropped due to COVID-19. International travel restrictions and the COVID-19 lockdown in April meant far fewer people travelled by road or air.

“The last time no crude oil was imported in a single month was in August 1986, a year when international demand for oil fell and prices dropped sharply,” international statistics manager Darren Allan said.

In recent months, Refining NZ cut production at its Marsden Point oil refinery to about half its normal levels as COVID-19 travel restrictions affected demand. The refinery managed stock levels to let demand catch up with supply (see HY20 interim results for more detail).  

Also contributing to the fall in total imports in July 2020 were:

• motor vehicles, down $234 million
• truck and vans, down $122 million.

Car imports have been much lower than usual since April 2020, when the alert level 4 lockdown meant car dealers were closed as a non-essential business.

Imported face masks up almost $190 million

Face mask imports increased sharply this year as the COVID-19 global pandemic spread and New Zealand moved into lockdown.

New Zealand has imported $232 million worth of face masks since the beginning of the year, up $189 million from $43 million for the same period last year. This includes all types of face masks, from surgical masks to painting and dust masks.

Imports down from top trading partners except China

Of New Zealand’s main trading partners, imports from the European Union had the biggest fall in July 2020, down $262 million when compared with July 2019. Aircraft and parts led the fall, down $120 million (89 percent), while imports of electric trains increased, up $36 million.

Imports from the United States fell $76 million, led by machinery and equipment (such as turbo-jet and turbo propeller parts), down $59 million.

Goods imports from China were up $108 million (10 percent) in July 2020 when compared with July 2019. The leading rises were electrical machinery and equipment (such as mobile phones), up $53 million, fertilisers, up $30 million, and textiles (such as face masks), up $18 million.

Dairy exports down but live animal exports up

Exports of dairy, crude oil, fish, and other seafood (such as crustaceans) fell in July 2020.

This fall was largely offset by a sharp rise in exports of live animals (mainly thousands of live dairy cattle to China) and breathing equipment, which is in demand internationally because of COVID-19.

Total dairy exports

Within the dairy category, milk fats including butter led the fall, down $92 million (29 percent) on July 2019. Cheese fell $39 million (19 percent) and milk powder fell $30 million (4.9 percent).

Breathing equipment exports more than doubled (up $51 million) compared with July 2019. Over one-quarter of New Zealand’s breathing equipment exports were to the United States.

Exports to China boosted by live animals

Exports to China fell $28 million compared with July 2019, with beef exports down $74 million and dairy down $37 million.

These decreases were partly offset by exports of live animals to China, up $68 million. There were over 30,000 cattle exported to China in July 2020.

“Exports of beef to China fell in July, but this was more than offset by a rise in beef exports to the United States,” Mr Allan said.

Total exports to the United States rose $89 million, led by beef (up $70 million), and exports to the European Union rose $54 million, led by kiwifruit (up $39 million).

The total value of merchandise goods exports was little changed compared with July 2019, down $9.8 million (0.2 percent) to $4.9 billion in July 2020.

Trade balance

The monthly trade balance for July 2020 was a surplus of $282 million.

The annual trade balance for the year ended July 2020 was a deficit of $115 million, which is the lowest annual trade deficit since the October 2014 year.