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Methods of transporting imported and exported goods

Overseas merchandise trade statistics provide information on the import and export of merchandise goods between New Zealand and other countries.

One way we can describe overseas trade statistics is by the way goods are transported – how they are imported or exported.

Four transport types are used to import and export goods to and from New Zealand: air; sea; postal consignments, mail, or courier shipments; and self-propelled goods (planes and ships).

Method of transport by year (2005–15)

Sea transport is the most-common transport type used in New Zealand. An average of 88 percent of the exports value, and 77 percent of the imports value, were transported by sea between 2005 and 2015.

Air transport was the next most-common transport method, with averages of 11 percent (exports) and 20 percent (imports).

Figure 1

 Graph, Method of transport for exports, annual, 2005 to 2015.

Figure 2

Graph, Method of transport for imports, annual, 2005 to 2015.

Between 2005 and 2015, the proportions for different transport types for total exports and imports hardly changed. The notable exception was for imports in 2008. This was caused by an exceptionally high value of imports for the year, which was $6.6 billion greater than in 2007, and $8.3 billion greater than in 2009. The increase in the value of imports for 2008 was led by the high prices for petroleum and products during the year. Petroleum and products are only imported by sea.

Method of transport by commodity (Year ended December 2015)

We use the New Zealand Harmonised System Classification (HS) to classify the collection, compilation, and dissemination of overseas merchandise trade statistics.


The 10 largest HS chapters (2-digit Harmonised System codes) by value for exports contributed 67 percent of total exports in 2015.

Figure 3

Graph, Mode of transport for exports of top 10 HS chapters, annual, December 2015.

For the year ended December 2015, sea transport was almost the only transport method for six of the top 10 exported HS chapters. Of the remaining four chapters, only electrical machinery had air as the most-common type of transport – 55 percent of the total value of electrical machinery was exported by air. 


The 10 largest HS chapters by value for imports contributed 62 percent of total imports.

Figure 4

Graph, Mode of transport for imports of top 10 HS chapters, annual, December 2015.

Five of the top 10 import chapters were imported mainly by sea transport. Electrical machinery, precision instruments and apparatus, and pharmaceuticals had more of their value imported by air than sea. Aircraft and parts had nearly 70 percent of its annual value imported as self-propelled vehicles.

Page updated: 30 November 2016

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