Our History

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New Zealand Exporting Timeline

Since its earliest days, New Zealand has depended on exports for growth and prosperity.

The Dawn of NZ Exporting

Exporting began when Maori sold wheat, oats, maize and potatoes to the fledgling colony of New South Wales and the first European settlers exported the oil and skins from whales and seals hunted around the New Zealand coast.


Pastoral Farming

Pastoral farming became the main economic activity in New Zealand. Farming was to provide the foundation for the country’s economic development for most of the 19th century. Wool was the main product exported


Refrigerated Shipments

A trial shipment of frozen mutton and lamb was sent from Port Chalmers (Otago) to London on the refrigerated steamship Dunedin. Meat, cheese and butter now joined wool as important export commodities, bringing a long period of economic growth that lasted – with occasional interruptions due to recession and depression – until the 1970s.


Highest Standards of Living

Exports exceeded imports. New Zealand – Britain’s farm in the South Pacific, as it was often called – enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world. Export income financed the development of New Zealand’s infrastructure (such as roads, railway lines, communication links, schools and electricity generation) as well as meeting the cost of essential imports such as motor vehicles, machinery and fuel.

1840 – 1940

Manufacturing Encouraged

Gap between exports and imports narrowed. Development of manufacturing was encouraged to minimise expenditure on imports.


One of the Richest Countries

New Zealand one of the richest countries in the OECD. Our GDP per capita was six percent higher than the average for OECD countries. Though in the late 1960's - 1970's the golden run ended with a series of setbacks.


Bristish reduction on imports

Britain joined the European Economic Community (now called the European Union), which meant it had to buy more of its goods from European countries. One of the conditions of its membership was that Britain put strict limits on imports from New Zealand, with the result that New Zealand suddenly lost much of its access to its most important market.


Ranked Sixth

New Zealand was ranked sixth of the OECD’s 24 member countries in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, which measures how well off a country is.


Economic Decline

New Zealand’s economic growth fell behind that of other developed countries during the 1970s and ‘80s and our relative standard of living declined as a result. For decades, we have had a stubbornly high current account deficit, meaning we have spent more on imports than we have earned from exports. In other words, we have been living beyond our means.

1970's - 1980's

Poorest in the OECD

New Zealand became one of the poorest in the OECD. By 1997, Our GDP per capita was 29 percent lower than the average for OECD countries.


Tempted to move

When OECD membership had increased to 30 countries, New Zealand had slipped to 20th place. One of the dangers of this widening income gap between New Zealand and other countries is that more New Zealanders are tempted to move to other countries, such as Australia, in search of better economic opportunities.


Growth in Tourism

By 2006 New Zealand was selling products to more than 200 countries and territories. Incoming tourism was New Zealand’s biggest export earner in 2006, accounting for 19 percent of the country’s overseas income – even more than the prosperous dairy industry.


Export Year 07

Economists agree that one way to get New Zealand back up among the world’s top-performing economies, where we were in the 1950s and ‘60s, is to improve our exporting performance.