5368.0 - International Trade in Goods and Services, Australia, Oct 2007  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 10/12/2007   
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This year marks 100 years of collaboration between the Australian Customs Service (ACS) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) enabling the ABS to produce statistics on international trade in goods. The ABS first published international trade statistics in 1907, soon after its formation (as the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics) in 1906. Prior to this, trade statistics were compiled by the Government Statistician of each state. The earliest state records are available from 1826.

Loading exports in the 1940s
Loading exports in the 1940s

Trade in goods statistics are compiled by the ABS using export and import transactions provided by ACS. Formed after the Federation of Australian states in 1901, the ACS was known as the Department of Trade and Customs. Before the creation of a Commonwealth Government department, each state operated its own Customs House.

First Trade Statistics

The first ABS international trade publication, Trade and Customs and Excise Revenue of the Commonwealth of Australia for the year 1906 (cat. no. 5409.0), was released in June of 1907. This leather-bound publication spanning 445 pages presents the imports and exports of merchandise, specie (coin) and bullion between Australia and the rest of the world.

The publication extensively details traded items from acids and ale to watches and wigs. The move from hard copy publications to electronic data presentation sees today's international trade publication, International Trade in Goods and Services, (cat. no. 5368.0 - international merchandise trade tables) aggregate such items under the broader categories of chemicals and related products; beverages and tobacco; and miscellaneous manufactured goods. Considerable information can be accessed free of charge from the ABS website with the most detailed data available upon request.

Changes in Trade

Australia's international trade statistics have changed markedly over the past century not only concerning presentation but also the composition of imports and exports. In 1906 Australian imports totalled 44,729,506 ($89m), made up mostly of apparel and textiles (12,741,635, approximately $25m or 28%) from the UK and Germany. Imports of manufactured metals and machinery, mostly boilers and pumps, were also significant (9,143,861, approximately $18m or 20%). Exports totalling 66,299,874 ($133m) resulted in a 21,570,368 ($43m) trade surplus. The single largest commodity exported was wool destined primarily for the UK, contributing 22,645,769 ($45m or 34%) to exports.

Wool - Australia's largest export commodity in 1906
Wool - Australia's largest export commodity in 1906
(National Archives of Australia: A1500, K10113)

In 2006-07 Australia's main merchandise exports are coal (12%) and iron ore (9%). The composition of imports has shifted to petroleum products (13%) and passenger motor vehicles (7%).

The UK was Australia’s major trading partner in 1906, accounting for 59% of imports and 49% of exports. In 2006-07, the UK accounts for just 4% of both imports and exports. The focus of trade has shifted to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries which account for 72% of Australia's trade in 2006-07. The main sources of Australia's imports are now China (15%), USA (14%), and Japan (10%). Australian exports are primarily destined for the ports of Japan (19%), China (14%) and the Republic of Korea (8%).

International trade statistics indicate a country's economic strengths and challenges. They guide significant cross-border relationships and shape foreign economic policy. The ABS and ACS together celebrate 100 years of reliable and readily accessible measures of Australia's global trading position. Both agencies would like to acknowledge the contribution the importing and exporting community have made and continue to make to the collection and dissemination of reliable merchandise trade data.

Comparison of Import Origin, 1906 and 2006-07
Graph: Comparison of Import Origin, 1906 and 2006-07
Comparison of Export Destinations, 1906 and 2006-07
Graph: Comparison of Export Destinations, 1906 and 2006-07

One of the many electronic goods imported in recent years
One of the many electronic goods imported in recent years


1907 - Trade and Customs and Excise Revenue of the Commonwealth of Australia for the year 1906, released. Trade surplus [exports - imports / (exports + imports)] 19%.

1917 - Monthly international merchandise trade statistics first published in August.

1930-31 - Following the 1929 Wall Street crash and subsequent onset of the Great Depression, price of wool, metals, timber, apparel, liquor and minerals are hardest hit. Total trade (exports plus imports) reduces 42% from 1929-30.

1942-43 - World War II led to high import and export prices. Largest Australian trade surplus (in percentage terms) 33%.

1943-44 to 1944-45 - War dangers to shipping reduces international trade. Trade surplus 16%.

1951-52 to 1952-53 - Record price of wool led to most volatile period for Australian trade. Trade balance shifts from a deficit of 21% to a surplus of 26%.

1966-67 - The UK relinquishes its number one position as Australia’s trading partner. Imports from the USA surpass those from the UK and Japan replaces the UK as the number one market for exports. Trade deficit 0.4%.

1988 - Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System (HS) classification introduced enabling consistent international comparison of trade statistics.

2005-06 - China becomes the main source of imports (followed by the USA and Japan), growing 51% since 2003-04. Republic of Korea with strong demand for exports, particularly coal, surpasses USA as the third largest export market. Trade deficit 8%.

2006-07 - Strong growth in China’s demand for Australian minerals exports, more than doubling from 2003-04 figures, contributing to a boom in Australia’s mining industry. China is the second largest export market after Japan, followed by the Republic of Korea. Trade deficit 4%.

Further Information

For further information about statistics in this article refer to:

Balance of Payments and International Investment Position, June Quarter 2007 (cat. no. 5302.0)

International Trade in Goods and Services, June 2007 (cat. no. 5368.0)

Trade and Customs and Excise Revenue of the Commonwealth of Australia for the year 1906 (cat. no. 5409.0)

2001 Year Book Australia. "Trade Since 1900" pp.1035-1039 (cat. no. 1301.0)

Informing a Nation: The evolution of the Australian Bureau of Statistics 1905-2005 (cat. no. 1382.0)