Australia overtook China as New Zealand's top export destination in the quarter ending September as falling commodity prices drove export values down for the second quarter running, the government statistics agency announced on Friday.
The value of exports fell three percent to 12 billion NZ dollars (9.39 billion U.S. dollars) in the September quarter, while imports were up 3.7 percent to 13 billion NZ dollars (10.17 billion U.S. dollars), according to Statistics New Zealand.
The fall in exports followed a 7.5-percent fall in the June quarter, with falls for both quarters led by milk powder, butter and cheese, as well as logs, wood and wood articles.
Dairy products, New Zealand's largest export commodity group, saw export values fall 8.8 percent, or 330 million NZ dollars (258. 21 million U.S. dollars), in the September quarter, despite the quantity of exports rising 2.7 percent.
"This is the first quarter since September 2013 where exports to Australia were greater than to China," international statistics manager Jason Attewell said in a statement.
"China's rise to being our number one export market coincided with record dairy exports, driven by both prices and volumes, in the year to the September 2014 quarter."
The rise in imports was led mainly influenced by imports of large aircraft in the September quarter, but if these were excluded, imports would have risen by just 0.2 percent
The trade deficit for the September quarter was equivalent to 8. 6 percent of exports.
The opposition Green Party said the figures, following a plunge in milk powder prices of almost 50 percent this year, should be ringing alarm bells over New Zealand's reliance on commodities.
"Not only is the idea of relying on ever increasing volumes of dairy production bad for the environment, it is bad economics to depend so heavily on one product," Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said in a statement.