International Trade


The Northern Territory (NT) economy is a small open economy influenced by trade, investment and movements in commodity prices and exchange rates. In this section, analysis is provided on the NT's trade balance, trade in goods and services, national and global conditions, exchange rates, as well as key trading partners and commodities relevant to the NT economy.

     


Trade balance | International trade in goods | International trade in services | Global economy | Major trading partners | Exchange rates | Commodity prices | National trade | Explanatory notes

Trade balance 2017-18

The Northern Territory (NT) has recorded a trade surplus for over a decade, mainly a result of the high volume and value of exports related to energy and mineral products (Chart 1). In 2017-18, the NT’s net international trade balance increased by 68.8% to $2.6 billion, up from $1.5 billion in 2016-17. This was slightly below the 10-year average of $3.0 billion.

The 2017-18 increase in net exports was mainly driven by an 80.3% increase in net goods merchandise, with an 8.2% increase in goods exports and an 18.9% decline in goods imports. Net services declined by 111.0%, driven by a 7.9% decline in service exports and a 6.1% increase in service imports.

The NT’s trade balance mainly consists of goods, with services only contributing a minor proportion of NT trade activity. In 2017-18, service imports contributed 18.8% to the total value of imports and service exports contributed 11.0% to the total value of exports.

For the latest available data and analysis, see the Department of Treasury and Finance’s Gross State Product economic brief.

International trade in goods

Goods exports

2017-18

In 2017-18, the NT had the third highest level of exports as a share of gross state product (GSP), in current prices. This is consistent with the other mining states of Western Australia and Queensland, which highlights the resource-intensive nature of the NT economy (Chart 2).

The NT’s top exported goods included confidential items (likely LNG and uranium), metalliferous ores and metal scrap, live animal exports (food and live animals), petroleum and petroleum related products, and meat and meat preparation (food and live animals) (Chart 3). The NT’s value of exported goods increased by 8.2% to $5.7 billion in 2017-18, driven by increases in metalliferous ores and metal scrap (up 3.9 %). Confidential items (66.2 %), and, metalliferous ores and metal scrap (19.5 %) accounted for the majority of total exports over the year.

Data can be confidentialised by the source if a supplier’s privacy is easily identified, for example the NT only has one exporter of Uranium. Recent changes in classification of confidential items have increased the proportion of confidentialised NT data.

Recent activity

In the year to March 2019, the NT’s total value of goods exported increased by 40.9% (up $2.2 billion) to $7.7 billion, in current prices. This was predominantly driven by significant increases in exports to Japan, China and the Republic of Korea.

The top three goods export destinations were Japan (39.0%), China (32.9%) and Korea (5.5%). Goods exported to those destinations primarily consisted of confidential items (83.7%), metalliferous ores and metal scrap (15.0%) and petroleum, petroleum products and related materials (0.7%). Exports to Japan increased by $1.1 billion to $3.0 billion, with the majority of the goods being confidential items (94.0%). Exports to China increased by $582 million to $2.5 billion in the year, with confidential items (70.4%), and metalliferous ores and metal scrap (29.2 %) making up a large portion of the total. Exports to Korea also increased by $170 million to $422 million, with confidential items (89.7%) and metalliferous ores and metal scrap (9.2%) making up the majority of trade (Chart 4).

Goods imports

2017-18

In 2017-18, the NT’s value of imported goods decreased by 18.9% to $3.1 billion. The NT’s top three source countries for imports were Singapore, Malaysia and Japan, with growth in imports from Singapore (up $210 million to $405 million), and Japan (up $43 million to $167 million). However, imports from Malaysia declined by $13 million to $290 million, predominantly affected by a decline in petroleum and related products (down 6.6%). Goods imported from these source markets mainly consisted of petroleum and related products (37.2 %), transport equipment (14.0%), and road vehicles (9.6%) (Chart 5).

Recent activity

In the year to March 2019, the NT’s imports decreased by 1.7% to $1.9 billion compared to the same time last year.

Latest results indicate the NT’s top three source markets for imports were Singapore, Malaysia and Switzerland, with growth in imports from Singapore (up $330 million to $655 million), and Switzerland (up $114 million to $223 million). However, imports from Malaysia declined by $87 million to $229 million, predominantly affected by a decline in petroleum, petroleum products and related materials.

The main commodities imported from the source countries over this period include petroleum, petroleum products and related materials (76.7%), transport equipment (20.2%), and general industrial machinery and equipment (0.7%).

For the latest available data and analysis on goods merchandise trade, see the Department of Treasury and Finance’s International trade economic brief.

International trade in services

Service exports

In 2017-18 the international net trade balance for services decreased to $30 million. This was driven by a 2.6% increase in international service exports and a 9.1% increase in international service imports (Chart 6).

The major components of the NT’s international service exports include personal travel services (62.5%) and government goods and services (17.5). The demand for international service exports are likely to be driven by the depreciation in the Australian dollar and global business confidence of investment in the NT. As a result of the NT’s small population size and high mining activity, NT service exports contributes a small portion (12.8%) to the NT’s total exports.

Service imports

The major components of the NT’s international service imports include personal travel services (67.8%), freight services (11.7%), and passenger transport services (which includes agency fees and commission for air transport) (10.1%) . The annual increase in service imports was a result of a 33.3% increase in freight services in 2017-18.International service imports are likely to be driven by an appreciation in the Australian dollar, making travel and overseas goods and services more affordable for domestic residents.

Global economy

The latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) World Economic Outlook (WEO) April 2019 publication reports that the global economy has weakened. Global growth is projected to slow from 3.6 per cent in 2018 to 3.3 percent in 2019 before rising back to 3.6 percent in 2020, reporting a 0.2 percentage point decline in the 2019 forecast from the January 2019 publication. Growth in 2018 was also revised downward by 0.1 per cent reflecting weakness in the second half of 2018 with factors such as:

Table 1 shows the GDP growth projections for some of the NT’s current major international trading destinations.

Major trading partners

The Territory is geographically located close to major Asian economies including China, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand and, as expected, these are the Territory’s major trading partners. The Territory also relies on goods imports from the United States of America and the European Union, which are also identified as key trading partners.

The following analysis is based on the Territory’s key trading partners for exports and imports, which is updated on a biannual basis to reflect most recently available calendar year and financial year trade statistics. This reporting frequency is optimal given the relatively small size of the Territory economy, as well as volatility in the monthly international trade statistics published by the ABS.

Financial year results | Calendar year results

Exchange rates

Movements in exchange rates are largely determined by the difference in inflation and interest rates as well as the trade balance between countries. In 2017-18, the Australian dollar depreciated by 3.9 per cent, compared to the US dollar, and averaged 77.4 cents in the year (Chart 7).

In April 2019, the Australian dollar was trading at 70.39 cents to the US dollar, a 0.7% decrease from 70.87 cents in the previous month (Table 2).

Since May 2013, the Australian dollar has been below parity, and steadily depreciating with a few minor bumps in the exchange rate. The relatively weak Australian dollar could benefit the NT, making goods and service exports cheaper and more competitive in overseas markets.

The trade weighted index (TWI) is a measure of the Australian dollar against a basket of currencies and measures the strength of the Australian dollar against major trading partners (Chart 7). The importance of other currencies depends on the proportion of trade done with that country. TWI is an efficient measure of general trends in the exchange rate because the Australian dollar could appreciate against the US dollar but depreciate against other currencies.

In 2017-18, the TWI was 4.4% lower than the previous financial year, averaging $64.40 in Australian dollar terms. In April 2019, the TWI slightly remained flat from the previous month at $60.50.

Commodity prices

Commodity prices are largely driven by global demand, especially from the Asian region. All prices referred to below are in Australian dollar terms.

Iron Ore

In 2017-18, the price of iron ore increased by 17.8% to $88.00, and averaged $90.00 through the year (Chart 8). This was slightly lower than the 2016-17 average price of $92.40.

Based on the latest update for April 2019, iron ore prices increased by 9.1% to $133.12 in the month, and increased by 16.3% in year on year terms. Prices remain significantly lower compared to the prices observed during the mining boom

Zinc and lead

Zinc and lead is one of the major exports from the NT and the value of total zinc and lead produced in 2017-18 was $932.9 million. For the latest data and analysis about the NT’s Mining and Manufacturing industry, see the Department of Treasury and Finance’s Mining and Manufacturing website and Department of Primary Industry and Resources (DPIR) website.

Zinc and lead prices both increased in 2017-18, with zinc being 24.9% higher compared to the previous year and averaging $4,119.30, and lead being 18.9% higher and averaging $3,154.0.

In April 2019, zinc prices went up 3.6%, but lead prices went down 4.6%. However, prices decreased for both commodities in year on year terms, decreasing by 5.8% for zinc and by 6.5% for lead (Chart 9).

Gold

In 2017-18, gold prices increased by 5.8% to $1,733.96, which was above the annual average of $1,687.60. In April 2019, the price of gold decreased by 0.5% to $1,826.84, however increased by 4.5% compared in year on year terms (Chart 10).

Oil

Global oil prices increased substantially in 2017-18, rising 62.3% to $97.38 and averaged $82.50 compared to the previous year (Chart 11).

The most recent World Bank report shows that oil prices have recouped some of the losses experienced in December 2018 as a result of subsequent production cuts by OPEC and its partners. In April 2019, the average price of oil increased by 7.9% to $101.15, and by 26.8% in year on year terms.

National trade

National and interstate economic activity influences the NT’s economy through changes to population, interstate trade, domestic tourism and the availability of workers to meet the NT’s labour requirements. Additionally, monetary policy set by the RBA influences household consumption, business confidence and investment in the NT.

The RBA has kept the official cash rate at a record low of 1.5% since August 2016. The NT could benefit from relatively low interest rates due to the impact on business confidence, consumption and investment decisions.

In 2017-18 Australia’s national trade balance totaled $7.8 billion, a 28.3% decline from the previous financial year. This was driven by a decline in trade of goods (down 5.9%) to $12.8 billion, offset by a 79.1% increase in trade in services but still resulting to a deficit of $5.0 billion, in the year.  Since then, Australia reported a trade balance of $29.1 billion in the year to February 2019.

Explanatory notes

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) publishes data on the NT’s trade balance annually. This is in line with the gross state product expenditure measure.

International Trade statistics are based on monthly data published by the ABS . This release provides preliminary estimates of Australia’s international goods and services on a balance of payments basis, and merchandise import and export statistics on an international merchandise trade basis.

International service exports represents income received by local businesses from overseas travelers, foreign businesses, foreign students and foreign government personnel (mostly defence), for services provided including meals, education, accommodation, entertainment and tourism activities. Service imports reflect expenditure by Territorians on services provided overseas. The ABS releases data for the NT’s services trade on a biannual basis, based on the most current financial year and calendar year results.

The IMF publishes a World Economic Outlook report biannually, which consists of an analyses by IMF staff economists on global economic developments during the near and medium term. An associated WEO database is released along with the WEO report, which presents the IMF staff’s analysis and forecasts of economic developments at the global level. The IMF also releases quarterly updates on global economic developments. These are not a full WEO report and do not include an update on the analysis and forecasts published in a full WEO report.

The World Bank releases data on commodity prices on a monthly basis.