As a trade dependent economy, geographically distant from export markets, New Zealand is a firm supporter of free and open trade. We have one of the most open market economies in the world.

Over the past three decades, successive New Zealand Governments have reformed our trade rules by removing many barriers to imports, ending most subsidies, and ensuring that the rules relating to foreign investment are designed to encourage productive foreign investment in New Zealand.

We’re consistently ranked by the World Bank and others as one of the most business-friendly countries in the world. We believe that open markets and the free flow of trade are ultimately in everyone’s best interests.

What is New Zealand’s trade policy?

Over the past 20 years, the barriers holding back our exports and the cost of imports have been successfully lowered. This has delivered substantial benefits for businesses and consumers.

However, things have changed over this period. The way we do business today and the global environment we operate in have moved on. 

Responding to these changes, we launched our refreshed trade policy strategy on 24 March 2017 to ensure that we remain agile and continue to get the best deal for New Zealanders from international trade.

Trade Agenda 2030 – Securing our place in the world envisages four shifts that will occur over the next 10-15 years:  

  1. Continuing with urgency to build on our network of free trade agreements (FTAs) while also intensifying focus on implementation in order to maximise value from the agreements we already have 

  2. Increased focus on non-tariff barriers / non-tariff measures, while still looking to address tariff peaks and tariff escalation

  3. Increasing our focus on services, investment and digital trade

  4. Appropriately assisting New Zealand businesses to succeed overseas.

Why does New Zealand advocate free trade?

Trade is critical to New Zealand's economy
Trade is critical to New Zealand's economy

Trade is critical to New Zealand’s economy. We can only pay for the goods and services we import from overseas by selling exports to other countries. At the moment, international trade (exports and imports) make up around 60% of New Zealand’s total economic activity.

New Zealand has an open economy that places few barriers in the way of foreign service providers or imports. But our exporters - particularly agricultural products exporters - often encounter barriers overseas, such as steep tariffs, quantitative restrictions, and anti-competitive local subsidies.

Other non-tariff measures such as regulatory barriers also affect services exporters. This is why New Zealand pursues an active free trade agenda. We need to establish and maintain our exporters’ access to markets that matter so we can advance and safeguard New Zealand’s interests.

Free trade doesn’t just benefit our exporters. Our open economy has meant New Zealand importers and consumers now enjoy access to a much wider and competitively priced range of goods and services.

Since 2000, FTAs have flourished worldwide. As our global competitors develop new networks of trade agreements,  New Zealand needs to match their progress or risk our exporters being disadvantaged.

New Zealand’s participation in the WTO, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) among others, supports our free trade policy.

Goods exports

New Zealand is the #1 dairy exporter in the world
New Zealand is the #1 dairy exporter in the world

Goods made up 69% of New Zealand goods and services exports and were valued at $48.5 billion in the year ending December 2016.

Agricultural goods – New Zealand is the world’s 12th largest agricultural exporter by value. We’re the number one sheep meat exporter, the number one dairy product exporter and the second biggest wool exporter. Improving productivity, value-add and export earnings in this sector are critical to New Zealand's sustainable economic growth. FTAs are one way the government can support such growth.

Non-agricultural goods – 38% of our merchandise exports are non-agricultural goods. Our top earners include forestry products, crude and refined petroleum, and fish products; and exports of manufactured products such as clothing and electronics are growing. However, as a whole, our non-agricultural exports have only been expanding by 1% per year in the last decade. It’s critical we work to secure the FTAs we have under negotiation, and make sure we help businesses to take full advantage of our current agreements.


Services made up around 31% of New Zealand goods and services exports, valued at $21.6 billion (December 2016). These exports include tourism (our largest service export), transport, education and commercial services such as IT, telecommunications, accounting and film production. It is important that we continue to negotiate high-quality comprehensive FTAs that cover trade in services and investment, as well as trade in goods.