Australia’s export performance in 2015

27 May 2016

Tags

  • Mark Thirlwell
  • Australian Economy
  • International Trade

The recent release of supplementary data on international trade in services by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has allowed DFAT to update its rankings of Australia’s leading trading partners and top 25 exports and imports. So, what do these numbers tell us about Australia’s export performance in 2015? The central message is that last year’s fall in commodity prices in general and the price of iron ore in particular dragged down overall export values, with this drop only partially offset by increases in the value of exports of services, food and manufactures.

Australian exports of goods and services to China, 1987-2015

The main feature of the headline numbers was a decline in the overall value of exports. Exports of goods and services fell from $326.9 billion in 2014 to $316.6 billion last year, a fall of more than $10 billion (or a little more than three per cent) in value terms. The drivers of that fall were a drop in the value of goods exports in general and of exports of resources in particular as the value of goods exports shrank by more than $16 billion reflecting a more than $24 billion fall in the value of exports of fuels and minerals. These declines were partially offset by increases in the value of exports of services (up $6 billion or ten per cent), food1 (up more than $5 billion or 14 per cent) and manufactures (up about $1.5 billion or more than three per cent).

Compositions of Australian exports, 2015 and Change in value of exports by sector, 2015

Exports of resources (minerals and fuels) continue to dominate Australia’s export basket, but their share has declined from almost 50 per cent in 2014 to closer to 40 per cent last year. At the same time, the story that we’ve been telling of the rising importance of exports of services is also apparent in the data, with the share of services in exports back up to almost 21 per cent.

Share of services in Australian exports, 1990-2015

A look at Australia’s top exports of goods and services by product paints the same picture. Exports of iron ore and concentrates (worth more than $49 billion in 2015) and of coal (worth $37 billion) were still the top two exports last year, as they were in 2014, but the value of iron ore exports plunged by almost $17 billion in 2015, dropping about 26 per cent. Coal exports were also down, this time by a more modest $1 billion, or about three per cent.

Top ten exports in 2015

At the same time, the two largest dollar contributions to export growth came from education-related travels services (up by ten per cent or around $1.8 billion) and personal travel (up by 12 per cent or again by around $1.8 billion). Taken together, exports of all travel services (personal, education-related and business) were worth more than $39 billion, making them collectively Australia’s second-largest export earner last year.

Moving from the composition to the direction of exports, the data show that East Asia continues to be Australia’s leading export destination2. Last year, Australia’s exports of goods and services to the region were worth more than $205 billion or about 65 per cent of total exports, although that was down from more than $223 billion and an export share of more than 68 per cent in 2014. The drop in the value of resource exports already noted above has been the key driver of this decline.

Top ten export markets in 2015

Likewise, despite a fall in export values of $7 billion (about seven per cent) on the 2014 outcome, by individual market China continues to be our most important export destination, taking about $91.3 billion of goods and services last year, or almost 29 per cent of the total. The decline in commodity price is starting to reshape our pattern of trade, however; after peaking in 2013 at almost 32 per cent, China’s share of total exports of goods and services has now fallen for two consecutive years. Even so, as an export market China remains well-ahead of second-placed Japan which accounted for more than $42 billion (more than 13 per cent) of exports last year, but which also saw a decline of nearly $8 billion in export sales relative to 2014.

Australian exports of goods and services to China, 1987-2015

Markets which saw an increase in overall export sales last year included the United States (up $3.6 billion or about 19 per cent), India (up $2.1 billion or about 21 per cent) and the UK (up $0.4 billion and more than five per cent). Overall, exports to the EU also showed a modest increase, rising by $1.3 billion (almost six per cent) in 2015.

 

1  Comprising exports of both unprocessed and processed food. Total food exports were worth more than $42 billion last year, comprising about $17 billion of unprocessed products and almost $25 billion of processed products.
2  East Asia here comprises the ten members of ASEAN plus the five Northeast Asian economies of China, Japan, Hong Kong SAR, Taiwan and Korea.