The trade deficit hit $1.9 billion today. Which using one of those ‘bringing it down to a scale you can comprehend’ metaphors means that you owe someone overseas $475 dollars for the stuff you bought this year.
You can add that debt to the rest of the money you own from similar size debts you clocked up last year and the year before. In fact the last time we sold more than we earned for the year was back in 2002 (incidentally also the last year we decreased the amount we imported). Since then we have increased our our exports by nearly $8 billion. Sadly though, on the other side of the ledger, we have increased our imports by nearly $13 billion all during a period when our economy was meant to be booming.
Now there are two sides to this equation. The first, which relates to the $3.6 billion of stuff we sent overseas last month, you will undoubtedly hear for a range of ‘mainstream’ economists and politicians. It says that we are not exporting enough stuff and that we need to act to ‘transform’ our economy so it is more competitive and connected with global markets.
The second, and rarely mentioned, part of the equation though is the $3.8 billion of stuff we imported last month. Don’t expect to hear any mainstream economists or politicians asking how much of that stuff could we have made here, giving jobs to New Zealand workers and saving the carbon emissions from importing it? Or how much of the time could we have reused, repaired or recycled some of that stuff already in existence rather than buying a new thing?
Most of the gap between imports and exports is now related to the rising price of oil and petroleum products. While oil has fallen from its US$147 a barrel high last month to below US$130 at present that is still astronomically high compared to US$60 or US$70 a barrel price it was selling for this time last year. If oil can fall nearly US$20 a barrel and still be skyrocketingly high that should be the signal we need to do something about our economy’s reliance on imported goods, especially oil.