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25 years of the Tariff of New Zealand and the Harmonised System

This article marks the 25th anniversary, in 2013, of New Zealand Customs Service implementing the Tariff Act 1988, and Statistics NZ implementing the Harmonised System (HS) classification in New Zealand’s goods trade data.

The HS goods classification allows very fine levels of detail about our country’s trade. Statistics NZ makes this data freely available to the 10-digit level, back to when the HS was first set up.

Why the Harmonised System is important

The New Zealand Harmonised System Classification is based on the World Customs Organization’s Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System. This system classifies goods into commodity groups, and is used by more than 200 countries. It provides a comparable classification system for goods trade worldwide, and countries use it to set customs tariffs and to collect international trade statistics.

What the Tariff of New Zealand does

New Zealand, along with many other countries, uses the HS to structure their customs tariffs.  This helps to create internationally comparable tariff codes.  In the past, the Tariff was an important source of government revenue – from duty on imported goods.  However, duties have reduced over time. Today the Tariff is used to give a level of protection to local manufacturers against equivalent imported goods.

The Tariff also plays an important role in New Zealand’s free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations, particularly around the origin of an import. It determines whether or not goods imported will receive preferential duty rates. 

The Tariff provides information, through trade statistics, on the level of trade with any particular country or for a specific commodity. This information is important when negotiating an FTA. 

How much data the system contains

The New Zealand imports and exports data that Statistics NZ holds is classified according to HS code. The level of breakdown is extremely detailed; at its lowest level (10-digit) there are approximately 14,500 different classifications. Data is available at each level for monthly, quarterly, or annual time periods, and is available by country back to 1988. To put it in perspective, we publish over 36 million cells of data each month.

See Accessing the data to find this freely available information.

For example, here is how green-fleshed fresh kiwifruit is classified.

In August 2013 New Zealand exported:

  • $49.2 million of green-fleshed fresh kiwifruit (10-digit level)
  • $113.4 million of fresh kiwifruit (6 digit)
  • $113.9 million of fresh fruit not elsewhere classified (4 digit)
  • $136.9 million of fruit and nuts (chapter 8, 2 digit).

Other interesting trade facts you can find in our data include these two.

  • New Zealand exported 20,500 queen bees (worth $1.2 million), and 88.7 million bees other than queen (worth $1.2 million), in April 2012.
  • New Zealand imported 92 inflatable yachts and other vessels in August 1989.

Key changes over the past 25 years

Exports and imports have been changing rapidly over the 25 years to 2013. Highly detailed data on these changes can be found through our overseas merchandise trade page. A brief overview on some of the main changes since 1988 follows.

Trading partners

Since 1988 New Zealand’s main trading partners have changed at the top. In the year ended December 2013, China overtook Australia as New Zealand’s top exporting partner. This was the first time Australia has been beaten since they became number one in 1989.

In 2013, China took 21 percent of our exports. This was up from 4.7 percent of New Zealand’s exports in the year ended December 1988. Australia now sits as our number two export trading partner, with 19 percent of our total exports in 2013.

The increase in exports to China was driven by milk powder. In the December 2013 month, the value of milk powder exports was $483 million (141 percent) higher than in December 2012.

You can find further detail on changes in our export partners, other commodities driving the increase to China, and the composition of our exports to Australia, through the links at the end of this article.

Figure 1

 Graph, New Zealand exports, year ended December, 1988 to 2013.

Other country and commodity changes

For our exports, in the 25 years since 1988:

  • Dairy products increased from being our third-largest export commodity group to being the top export commodity group in 2013, making up 28 percent of our total exports.
  •  Cuba had the largest proportionate increase, going from receiving just under $2,000 of our exports in 1988 to $63 million in 2013. The increase was mainly due to milk powder.

For our imports, in the 25 years since 1988:

  • China grew from being New Zealand’s 15th ranked import partner to being our top import partner in 2013, providing 17 percent of our total 2013 imports.
  • Mineral fuels increased from being the fourth-largest commodity grouping to being number one in 2013. Mineral fuels made up 17 percent of total imports in 2013, compared with 5.4 percent in 1988.
  • Brunei had the largest proportionate increase, moving from just over $1,000 in 1988, to $597 million in 2013. Mineral fuels were mainly responsible for the increase.

Accessing the data

There are several ways to access the HS data available about our goods trade.

  •  Monthly overseas merchandise trade information releases are published each month.
  •  Infoshare has more data about New Zealand’s merchandise trade. Go to the imports and exports category.
  • NZ.Stat lets you view and download information from large datasets.

You can also access customised data for additional export and import variables:

  • client specific time periods
  • client specific HS groupings
  • New Zealand port of loading or discharge
  • overseas port of loading or discharge
  • apportioned gross weight (kg).

Call 0508 525 525 or email for help or an obligation-free quote. We charge for customised data – minimum cost is $115 excluding GST.

For more information on the Tariff of New Zealand, please visit New Zealand Customs Service.

Published 20 March 2014

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