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What China’s economic and social transition means for NZ exporters


Raymond Yeung

ANZ Chief Economist - Greater China.


China’s importance to New Zealand’s economy is obvious. In 2023 New Zealand exports to China were worth more than NZD$20 billion.


Heavily reliant on sales of dairy, meat, wood and fruit – especially kiwifruit and apples – China was New Zealand’s largest export market, receiving more than a quarter of all of its exports, twice the value of those sent to Australia.


What is less obvious is the quiet change happening in the Chinese economy, in particular with consumer behaviour. Economic growth is slowing, but the macroeconomic downturn may not be entirely negative for Kiwi exporters in the future.


Based on what we’ve observed, three key factors are shaping New Zealand’s export outlook:


Ride the Cycle.  


China’s property woes continue, with property sales declining 31% in the first quarter of 2024. New Zealand’s exports to China have also been sluggish during the past two years.


Historically, Kiwi exports to China are highly correlated with China’s property cycle. That means we need to wait for this property adjustment to finish.


Now that the Chinese government has a very strong mandate to revive the property market, the chances are that this adjustment to China’s property sector will quicken.


Even though it will not happen overnight, household spending and hence New Zealand exports to China will fire up again. Those that play the long game will be rewarded.

"New Zealand exports to China will fire up again. Those that play the long game will be rewarded." - Raymond Yeung, ANZ Chief Economist - Greater China.


Dining Out.


While China’s property market has taken a whack, and the population has dramatically pulled back its spending in this area, other sectors have seen growth.


There’s been a notable structural shift in the behaviour of Chinese consumers, who are now switching their spending to more ‘affordable’ goods, in particular food and beverages.


Shops selling bubble tea (with milk) seem to be opening on every street corner and we have seen customers lining up outside restaurants and drinks venues in cities throughout China.


Domestic tourism in China is also soaring. Tourist spending is now 16% higher than in 2019, pre-COVID. Restaurant receipts for May’s Labour Day were up 7%.


This is great for New Zealand’s exporters because dairy, fruit and meat from down under are viewed as high quality, yet affordable, even in these tighter economic times.  


Double Down on Green and Healthy.


China has had emissions reporting requirements in various forms for companies since 2006, with its political leadership pledging that the country will reach “peak carbon dioxide emissions” before 2030 and “carbon neutrality” before 2060.


There’s been a crackdown on waste and pollution, and improved resource management. In the past ten years China’s power generation from wind and solar has increased tenfold and it now leads the world in solar and battery technology.


BYD is now the world’s largest maker of EVs, producing more than 3 million last year. The Chinese consumer – especially the younger generations - has become increasingly aware of the environmental impacts and sustainability credentials of the products they buy and the food they eat.


Health awareness in Chinese households has also risen significantly following the pandemic. Sustainability messaging helps brands command higher prices for their products, especially if they can be linked to better health.


In this respect, New Zealand products have a natural advantage.



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