Economic overview

New Zealand has an open economy that works on free market principles.

Over the last 30 years our economy has gone from being one of the most regulated in the OECD to one of the least regulated, most free-market based economies.

Fertile soil and excellent growing conditions coupled with sophisticated farming methods and advanced agricultural technology provide the ideal environment for pastoral, forestry and horticulture activities. Various primary commodities account for around half of all goods exports and New Zealand is one of the top five dairy exporters in the world.

New Zealand has a very export-driven competitive economy with exports accounting for about 30% of GDP

Complementing primary production are sizeable manufacturing and service sectors and growing high-tech capabilities. Tourism, film production, and winemaking are also significant. 

It's a very export-driven competitive economy with exports accounting for about 30% of GDP. 

We have a low-inflation environment, with monetary policy managed by the Reserve Bank, our independent central bank that is charged with maintaining price stability. 

We have a long-standing flexible exchange rate. There are no exchange controls or restrictions on bringing in or repatriating funds.

Reserve Bank of New Zealand

Resilient economy

We’re ranked by the World Bank as the easiest place in the world to start a business (2015) and the world’s second easiest country to do business in generally.

The Heritage Foundation rated New Zealand the world’s third freest economy in its 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, just behind Hong Kong and Singapore.

There are few restrictions on establishing, owning and operating a business here. In fact, by using the government’s online portals the official paperwork to set up a business can be completed in a matter of hours.

New Zealand came in third in Forbes’ ‘Best Country for Business’ report, (December 2014) just behind Denmark and Hong Kong.

Forbes commented that “Over the past 20 years the government has transformed New Zealand from an agrarian economy dependent on concessionary British market access to a more industrialized, free market economy that can compete globally. This dynamic growth has boosted real incomes and broadened and deepened the technological capabilities of the industrial sector.”

Economy Rankings | World Bank

Best Countries for Business | Forbes

Robust outlook

Noting that New Zealand's economic growth has been faster than most other developed countries in recent years, the OECD commented in 2015 that: "inflation and inflation expectations are well anchored... Strong fiscal monetary policy frameworks and a healthy financial sector have yielded macroeconomic stability, underpinning growth. Employment is high, in large part thanks to flexible labour markets and ample immigration, business investment is robust and households and firms are optimistic."

New Zealand 2015 Overview | OECD

Pre-crisis performance

Between 2000 and 2007, the New Zealand economy expanded by an average of 3.5% each year as private consumption and residential investment grew strongly. Annual inflation averaged 2.6%, inside the Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s 1% to 3% target range, while the current account deficit averaged 5.5% of GDP.

Handling the crisis

Like most OECD countries, New Zealand’s economy experienced an economic slow-down following the global financial crisis in September 2008. As in other advanced economies, business and consumer confidence declined. Unlike most OECD countries however, after a 2% decline in 2009, the economy pulled out of recession. It achieved 1.7% growth in 2010, 2% in 2011 and 3% in 2012. That compared with 0.3% growth in the UK and negative 0.9% in the euro area; 0.4% in Japan; 1.1% in Canada; and 1.6% in the USA.

Recovery was led mainly by exports, while relatively strong Government accounts and a well-capitalised banking system provided a stable base for the economy. These positives were supported by the continued boost to GDP from the rebuilding of Christchurch after earthquakes there in 2010 and 2011.

Recent performance

By December 2014, annual growth had risen to 3.3%, the fastest rate of expansion in six years and, according the New Zealand Treasury, one of the strongest performances in the OECD

Growth for 2015 is expected to be around 3%, supported by net migration flows, labour income growth, and construction activity. It is expected to fall back for 2016 and 2017, largely due to deteriorating terms of trade, particularly for our dairy exports. This factor has been somewhat offset however by falling oil prices and a lower exchange rate which is helping exporters. From 2018, growth is forecast to pick up again.  

Stock market performance

The New Zealand stock market has recovered strongly from the global financial crisis, up 121% from 1 April 2009 to 30 June 2015. Despite key economic drivers coming off their highs, steady economic growth and a weaker currency is expected to underpin corporate earnings and securities valuations in the medium term. 

New Zealand stock exchange building

Macro-economic foundations

A range of measures have stabilised the situation and New Zealand now enjoys sound macroeconomic foundations.

  • The government has committed to returning the budget to surplus in 2015/16 and maintaining surpluses in the future.
  • We have a relatively strong fiscal position and a commitment to reduce net debt to 20% of GDP by the early 2020s, earlier if possible.
  • Legislative requirements are in place to maintain public debt at prudent levels.

The New Zealand Treasury forecast in May 2015 that New Zealand's economic growth would average 2.8% per year over the four years to 2019. 

Fiscal Strategy | NZ Treasury

Budget economic and fiscal update 2015 | NZ Treasury

Government policy

The current National Party-led government first elected in November 2008 and re-elected in November 2011 and again in September 2014 aims to lift the long-term performance of the economy through five key policy drivers:

  • building a stronger economy
  • investment in world-class infrastructure
  • better public services
  • rebuilding Christchurch
  • building a safer New Zealand.

Economic indicators

  Total Year end
Population 4,596,700 June 2015
GDP (NZ$million) 239,065 March 2015
GDP growth 3.3% Dec 2014
alternative GDP growth 3.2% March 2015
GDP per capita (NZ$) 52,007 March 2015
CPI (Consumer Price Index inflation %) 0.4 June 14 - June 15
Unemployment rate (%) 5.8 March 2015
Total exports (NZ$ million) 67,475 June 2015
Total imports (NZ$ million) 65,137 June 2015

Source: Statistics New Zealand, Reserve Bank of New Zealand

Contributors to GDP 

(March 2015)

  NZD (millions) % of total
Rental, Hiring and Real Estate Services 25,343 12.7
Manufacturing 23,970 12.0
Professional, Scientific, Technical, Administrative and Support 20,120 10.1
Retail Trade and Accommodation 14,654 7.3
Construction 14,386 7.2
Health Care and Social Assistance 13,426 6.7
Financial and Insurance Services 12,612 6.3
Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing 12,240 6.1
Wholesale Trade 11,156 5.6
Education and Training 9,410 4.7
Public Administration and Safety 9,352 4.7
Transport, Postal and Warehousing 9,235 4.6
Arts, Recreation and Other Services 7,191 3.6
Information Media and Telecommunications 6,854 3.4
Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services 6,186 3.1
Mining 3,654 1.8
Gross Domestic Product 199,789


Gross Domestic Product | Statistics New Zealand

Exports - top 20 commodities

(June 2015)

Commodity NZ$ (millions) % of total
Milk powder, butter, and cheese 12,038 21.2
Business and other personal travel (tourism) 8,720 15.3
Meat and edible offal 6,376 11.2
Logs, Wood and Wood Articles 3,476 6.1
Education Travel (overseas students) 3,004 5.3
Fruit 2,014 3.5
Air Transport 2,007 3.5
Mechanical machinery and equipment 1,678 3.0
Wine 1,424 2.5
Fish, Crustaceans and Molluscs 1,409 2.5
Casein and caseinates 1,146 2.0
Aluminium and Aluminium Articles 1,077 1.9
Electrical Machinery and Equipment 983 1.7
Crude Oil 971 1.7
Miscellaneous Edible Preparations 937 1.6
Wool 805 1.4
Preparations for Cereals, Flour and Starch 803 1.4
Telecommunications, Computer and Information Services 800 1.4
Optical, Medical and Measuring Equipment 795 1.4
Precious Metals, Jewellery and Coins 735 1.3

Goods and Services Trade by Country | Statistics New Zealand

Top 10 trading partners

Country Exports NZ$ (millions) Imports NZ$ (millions) Total trade NZ$ (millions)
Australia 12,994 11,333 24,327
China, People's Republic of 10,342 9,454 19,796
European Union 8,098 11,521 19,619
United States of America 7,920 8,012 15,932
Japan 3,617 3,332 6,949
Singapore 1,443 2,859 4,302
Korea, Republic of 2,085 2,179 4,264
Malaysia 1,154 1,968 3,122
Thailand 939 2,072 3,011
Taiwan 1,201 776 1,977
Total trade 67,475 65,137 132,612

Goods and Services Trade by Country | Statistics New Zealand

More information

The New Zealand Government collects a wealth of statistical information about commerce and trade. To view more, two good places to start are Statistics New Zealand and The Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

To read current business news in New Zealand visit popular local websites NZ Herald, Stuff and NBR.

Interested in coming to New Zealand?

Register with us and you’ll receive great info on jobs and upcoming events.


Is there anything wrong with this page?

Page last updated: 08/11/2017

Help us improve New Zealand Now

Your feedback is very important in helping us improve the New Zealand Now website. Please don’t include any personal or financial information.