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Trade and Migration to New Zealand - WP 04/18

2  Trends in migration and trade

Between 1981 and 2001 the number of people usually resident in New Zealand who stated on their census forms that they were born overseas rose from 450,000 to 698,000, an increase of 55%. As Table 1 shows, the sources of migrants also became more diverse, with particularly large increases in the number of migrants from East Asia and the Pacific. The data in Table 1 suggest that New Zealand is starting to develop migrant communities from an increasingly wide variety of countries. Detailed examination bears this out. For instance, the number of countries for which New Zealand had at least one thousand migrants increased from 28 in 1981 to 48 in 2001, and the number of countries for which New Zealand had at least 10 thousand migrants increased from 5 to 16.[2]

Most analysts trace the dramatic changes in New Zealand’s migrant population to changes in immigration policy. From the mid-1980s official preferences for “traditional” migrant sources were ended, and decisions were based mostly on personal characteristics such as qualifications and age (Lidgard, Bedford and Goodwin 1998). In the case of some East Asian countries, rapid income growth in the migrants’ home countries also presumably played a role. This provides partial reassurance that migration was not responding to trade per se, which would bias upwards our estimates of the effect of migration on trade.[3]

Table 1 – Changes in New Zealand’s migrant stock, exports, and imports, by region, 1981-2001
  Population by region of birth (thousands) Exports by region (NZ$1995 millions) Imports by region  (NZ$1995 millions)
  1981 2001 Incr. 1981 2001 Incr. 1981 2001 Incr.
Australia 44 56 28% 1,343 4,844 261% 1,529 5,741 275%
East Asia & Pacific 76 253 233% 2,688 9,066 237% 2,611 7,859 201%
Europe & Central Asia 47 67 42% 1,317 2,612 98% 898 4,236 372%
Mid East & N Africa 2 12 679% 692 800 16% 661 1,380 109%
North America 12 21 81% 1,337 4,300 222% 1,721 4,615 168%
South America 2 4 74% 212 1,192 462% 60 327 445%
South Asia 7 31 313% 126 323 156% 62 244 294%
Sub-Saharan Africa 8 36 381% 57 160 181% 28 123 339%
United Kingdom 253 217 -14% 1,166 1,221 5% 770 1,006 31%
Unspecified 14 149 979% 476 1,087 128% 123 681 454%
New Zealand 2,679 2,891 8% - - - - - -
Total 3,143 3,737 19% 9,413 25,605 172% 8,463 26,212 210%

Source – Population data from Statistics New Zealand unpublished census tabulations. Trade estimates calculated from the United Nations Statistics Division’s Comtrade database. The original Comtrade data were denominated in US dollars. See the text for a description of the conversion to NZ dollars.

New Zealand’s imports and exports have also grown substantially over the period 1981-2001. Table 1 presents estimates based on data from the United Nations Commodity Trade Database (Comtrade). Trade values in Comtrade are reported in nominal US dollars; we have converted these into 1995 NZ dollars by multiplying by the NZ-US exchange rate, and then dividing by Statistics New Zealand’s aggregate merchandise import and export price deflators.[4]

As with migration, there is substantial geographic variation in growth rates. Trade with the United Kingdom, for instance, has increased relatively little, while trade with South America has increased markedly. New Zealand has increased the number of countries with which it conducts substantial international trade. Between 1981 and 2001, the number of countries from which New Zealand imported goods worth at least $100 million (in 1995 NZ dollars) increased from 13 to 31. During the same period, the number of countries to which New Zealand exported goods worth at least $100 million increased from 20 to 29.

Notes

  • [2]Bryant and Law (2004) contains a more detailed analysis of trends in New Zealand’s foreign-born population.
  • [3]For more discussion on the direction of causation between migration and trade see Gould (1994: 310).
  • [4]We calculated annual exchange rates by averaging the International Monetary Fund’s monthly rates.  It would have been preferable to have used country-specific import and export price deflators.  However, country-specific deflators are available only for New Zealand’s top five trading partners.
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