About

Trade-related events have been important features of Australia’s history.

Australia’s Trade through Time explores the nature of this rich trading heritage, painting a vivid picture of Australia’s transformation from one of the most protected economies in the world to one of the most open.

Using historical trade statistics from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and information gathered from other sources, this interactive website illustrates the changing composition of Australia’s exports and imports (what we trade), their sources and destinations (who we trade with) and the importance of trade to the Australian economy.

By revealing the facts and figures from Australia’s past, Australia’s Trade through Time provides an insight into the role of trade as a driver of Australia’s prosperity.

Disclaimer

DFAT does not guarantee, and accepts no legal liability whatsoever arising from or connected to, the accuracy, reliability, currency or completeness of any material contained on this website or on any linked site.

The material on this website may include the views or recommendations of third parties, which do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government, or indicate its commitment to a particular course of action.

Users of the website should exercise their own skill and care with respect to their use of the information on this website.

The information presented is a snapshot of historic events, is of a general nature and is not intended to be exhaustive.

Acknowledgements

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade acknowledges the following valuable contributions in creating Australia’s Trade through Time.

The National Film and Sound Archive

The National Film and Sound Archive logo

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation logo

The State Library of New South Wales

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Wednesday July 17 2019

Decades

Timeline for Australia

The 1900s

1901

  • Wine becomes an early export industry

    Of the 23.9 million litres of wine that are produced in Australia, 3.9 million litres are exported. The United Kingdom and New Zealand are Australia's two principal export markets.

  • Customs Tariff Act establishes high tariff barriers

    The Customs Tariff Act establishes high tariff barriers for many manufactured goods imports into Australia, ranging from metals and machinery to oils and paints, horse-drawn vehicles and clothing. The average tariff was 22.9%. The Act also ensures uniform rates of customs duty apply across all of the previously independent states. Customs duties on merchandise imports are called tariffs. Tariffs give a price advantage to locally-produced goods over similar goods which are imported, and they raise revenues for governments.

  • Australia Federates

    The Commonwealth of Australia is created when the former British colonies—Australia’s six states—agree to federate on 1 January 1901.

  • Australia enjoys a golden start to federation

    Newly federated Australia exports 122,794kg of gold. Key destinations include the United Kingdom, India, Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) and Cape Colony (modern South Africa).

  • Australia abolishes interstate duties

    Duties between the states of newly federated Australia are abolished. The new constitution makes trade between states free and gives the Commonwealth exclusive power to levy customs and excise duties on goods crossing Australia’s borders.

  • The United Kingdom becomes Australia's top trading partner

    The United Kingdom is Australia's number one trading partner in 1901. Total trade with the United Kingdom is five times greater than that of Australia's second largest trading partner, the United States.

1906

  • Apparels and textiles account for largest share of imports

    Apparels and textiles make up approximately 28% of imports and represent the largest share of imports. Other significant imports include metals and machinery (mostly boilers and pumps), which account for approximately 20% of imports.

  • The United Kingdom accounts for 59% of Australia's imports

1908

  • British goods get preferential treatment

    The Customs Tariff 1908 gives preferential treatment to British goods.

1909

  • Free Trade Party dissolves

    The Australian Free Trade Party is dissolved. The Party argued that removing restrictions on trade would increase prosperity for all Australians.

  • Protectionist Party dissolves

    The Protectionist Party is dissolved after an internal split. The Party argued that tariffs were needed to allow Australian industry to grow and provide employment.

The 1910s

1913

  • Australia exports almost half of world zinc ore

    Australia is the world's leading exporter of zinc ore and concentrate, accounting for 48% of world exports.

1914

  • Statistical trade year changes

    Australia's statistical trade year is altered from a calendar year to financial year basis, to align more closely with Australia's export season for staple agricultural and pastoral products.

1915

  • Embargo placed on sugar imports

    The Australian Government places an embargo on sugar imports. The embargo is not lifted until 1989, when tariffs are implemented.

1916

  • The United Kingdom purchases the entire Australian wool clip

    Australian wool is urgently needed for military uniforms and blankets in World War I. The British Government purchases the entire Australian wool clip at a high fixed price for the duration of the war.

1918

  • First Trade Commissioner appointed to the United States

    Henry Braddon (later Sir Henry) is appointed as the first Australian Government commercial representative in the United States and sets up office in New York. Reporting directly to the Prime Minister, his immediate concern is to handle negotiations with American shipbuilders for the supply of 14 ships for the Commonwealth Shipping Line.

The 1920s

1920

  • Australia produces half of world's merino wool

    The United Kingdom purchases around 50% of Australia’s wool, Japan and the United States are also large buyers. Australia produces just under half of the world’s merino wool.

  • Largest merchandise trade surplus recorded to date

    In 1919 – 1920 Australia records a merchandise trade surplus of $107.1 million, the largest merchandise trade surplus since federation.

1921

  • Australia sends first Trade Commissioner to China

    Australia’s first Trade Commissioner to China, Edward S. Little, is appointed and sets up office in Shanghai as post-war pessimism about Europe leads Australian exporters to look to opportunities in the ‘East’.

  • Australia establishes Tariff Board

    Australia's Tariff Board, precursor to the Industries Assistance Commission and its successors, is established by the Tariff Board Act 1921 to advise the Commonwealth Government on questions of assistance for import competing industries.

1922

  • Beginnings of Trans-Tasman free trade

    Australia and New Zealand sign the first of many trade agreements. Australia lowers tariffs on select New Zealand items and gains duty free entry to New Zealand for timber.

1925

  • Australia-Canada trade treaty agreed

    A trade treaty between Australia and Canada is agreed. Canada grants preferential tariffs to a range of Australian imports, including beeswax, eucalyptus oil, butter, sugar and wine.

1927

  • US-Australia trade grows before Depression knocks trade to 1900 levels

    Two-way trade with the US increases fourfold since 1900. By 1933-34 trade will decrease to 1900 levels as the Great Depression hits and protectionist measures take hold globally.

1929

  • Australia raises customs duties

    The Customs Tariff is amended to increase the customs duties payable on ale, spirits, beverages, tobacco, silk, petroleum and motor chassis.

  • Trade Representative sent to Canada

    A Commercial Representative for Australia is appointed to Canada but is abolished in 1940 in favour of an Australian Trade Commissioner for North America, based in New York.

The 1930s

1930

  • Wool exports dominate

    In the 1930s Australia’s top export is wool, which comprises approximately 30% of the total value of Australia’s exports of merchandise trade.

1931

  • Australian pound pegged to British counterpart

    The price of the Australian pound is pegged against the British pound at a rate of A£1.25 to UK£1.

1932

  • Commonwealth preferential trading system established

    The Ottawa Agreements on trade policy are negotiated between the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries, including Australia, and formally establish a preferential trading system within the British Empire.

1933

  • Sales of wool to Japan grow

    In 1933-34, Japan's purchases of Australian wool account for two-thirds of Australia's exports to Asia.

1934

  • Trade Commissioner appointed to New Zealand

    Robert H. Nesbitt is appointed Trade Commissioner in Wellington to cultivate Australia-New Zealand trade and to handle a number of sensitive issues of trade diplomacy.

  • Trade Commissioner Service established

    Australia's Trade Commissioner Service is formally established under the Trade Representatives Act 1933, which provides for the appointment of overseas trade representatives for the Commonwealth Government.

1935

  • Australia supplies 18% of world wheat exports

    Australia produces 4% of the world's wheat but accounts for 18% of world wheat exports.

  • First Australian Trade Commissioner appointed to Japan

    Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Longfield Lloyd is appointed to the office of Australia’s Trade Commissioner in Tokyo.

  • Trade Commissioner appointed to Netherlands East Indies

    Experienced Trade Commissioner Charles Critchley is appointed to Batavia (now Jakarta) in the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia), where Australia’s primary exports are flour and butter, followed by ham, fresh fruit, leather and biscuits.

1936

  • First Australian Trade Commissioner appointed to Egypt

    Colonel Cyril E. Hughes is appointed Australian Trade Commissioner to Egypt, with responsibility for the Sudan, Palestine, Cyprus, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Greece and Turkey.

  • Australian trade delegation visits South Asia

    Australia sends a trade delegation to India, Burma (now Myanmar) and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) but reports limited opportunities.

1938

  • Embargo placed on iron ore exports

    The Australian Government places an embargo on all iron ore exports to conserve resources for domestic use. Reserves are thought to be low.

  • Wool comprises almost a third of Australian exports

    Valued at $93.8 million, wool exports represent 30% of the total value of Australia’s merchandise trade exports.

1939

  • Trade Commissioner appointed to India

    Having been the representative of the Australian National Travel Association in Bombay since 1937, H. Roy Gollan is appointed Australian Government Trade Commissioner in India in December 1939.

  • United Kingdom purchases all Australian wool exports during WWII

    All of Australia’s wool exports are purchased by the United Kingdom during World War II. Australian shearers are prohibited from volunteering for war service.

The 1940s

1940

  • Australia's export values soar

    The value of Australian exports increase significantly since the 1910s. Agricultural exports expand by 151% since 1913.

1944

  • Australia and New Zealand sign pact

    The Australia-New Zealand Agreement is signed by Minister for External Affairs, H.V. Evatt in Canberra on 21 January 1944. The Australia-New Zealand Pacific Security Pact (Canberra Pact) was not a military alliance. Its focus was on working together on issues of mutual interest, in particular the post-war fate of the Pacific islands.

1946

  • First Trade Commissioner appointed to the United Kingdom

    Charles Critchley is appointed the first Australian Trade Commissioner in London. Critchley is Australia’s most experienced commissioner, having served in Canada, the Netherlands East Indies and New Zealand.

1949

  • Foreign investment begins to diversify

    Foreign investment in Australia starts to diversify, though 73% of the investment stock is sourced from the United Kingdom. The United States (with 15% of foreign investment in Australia) grows in importance in the coming half century. In 1949, Australia’s own investments abroad are heavily weighted toward New Zealand (41%) and the UK (29%).

The 1950s

1950

  • Colombo Plan established

    The Colombo Plan is established by Australia, Canada, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom as an aid initiative. The plan is led by Foreign Affairs Minister Percy Spender and brings a large number of students from Asia to Australian tertiary institutions, boosting economic and cultural engagement between Australia and the region. It operates until 1957, by which time the seven founding nations had been joined by Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, the Philippines, the United States, Vietnam and Thailand.

  • Australian primary industries expand

    Australia substantially expands its agricultural industries throughout the 1950s as a result of improved pastures and the use of fertilisers.

  • Australia rides on the sheep's back

    Australian wool achieves all-time record price of 144.2 pence per pound (around $37 per kilogram in 2002-03 prices) following the outbreak of the Korean War and increased demand for wool. Exports equal about 30% of GDP (10 years later, the level will be around 15% of GDP). The wool boom leads to nominal wage growth of 19% in 1950 and a trade surplus.

  • Terms of trade hit a high

    Australia’s terms of trade reach their second-highest peak - 65% higher than the 20th century average. Key exports are wool, wheat, sugar and beef.

1951

  • Wool prices lead to recession in Australia

    Australia enters into recession following the end of the Korean War wool boom as wool prices almost halve in value. The recession ends in 1952.

1957

  • Australia renegotiates United Kingdom trade agreement

    The Department of Trade calculates that by the mid-1950s, advantages flowing to Britain from the 1932 Ottawa Agreement are significantly greater than those flowing to Australia. The agreement is renegotiated and Australia’s preferences to the United Kingdom are reduced, allowing Australia to import from a wider group of countries and broaden its export base.

  • Australia-Japan Commerce Agreement signed

    Minister for Trade, John McEwen, signs the Australia-Japan Commerce Agreement, providing the basis for growth in trade relations between the two countries. Just one decade after its signing, Japan overtook the United Kingdom to become Australia’s largest export market.

1959

  • Australia-Germany trade agreement signed

    The Government of Australia and the Federal Republic of Germany sign a bilateral trade agreement.

  • Japan becomes number one destination for Australian wool

    Japan overtakes the United Kingdom as the largest buyer of Australian wool

The 1960s

1960

  • Shift from quotas to tariffs to industry assistance

    Most of Australia's quantitative import restrictions introduced in the late 1930s and 1950s are removed. The Australian Government announces a case-by-case approach to requests by industry for temporary emergency assistance in the form of tariffs. Government policy shifts again, away from direct import and tariff protection towards domestic assistance, such as production quotas and government subsidies (for example the tobacco, wheat and dairy industry schemes).

1961

  • Minerals boom occurs

    The lifting of the 1938 embargo on iron ore exports in 1960 sees a boom in iron ore exploration. Key discoveries include the Koolanooka deposit in the Yilgarn in 1961, and Mt Tom Price in the Pilbara region in 1962. Iron ore will become Australia’s most valuable export by 2010.

1962

  • Imports surge

    The reduction of high interest rates and relaxation of import restrictions results in a rise in imports to Australia.

  • Trade missions to South America and Middle East

    Australia identifies South America and the Middle East as regions of export potential, and dispatches trade missions to both regions in the early 1960s. The trade missions visit Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela as well as a number of countries in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean.

1963

  • Launch of Australian Export Awards

    The Export Development Council launches the inaugural Australian Export Awards – to recognise Australian companies with outstanding achievement in exporting.

  • Australia-Japan Commerce Agreement renegotiated

    Reflecting the growing importance of the Australia-Japan trade relationship, the Australia-Japan Commerce Agreement, first signed in 1957, is renegotiated to promote greater trade. Trade with Japan grew over 11% per annum from 1956-57 to 1962-63.

1965

  • Australia-Korea Trade Agreement signed

    Australia and Korea sign a trade agreement in Seoul. Bilateral trade between the two countries totals just $7 million in 1965-66, but will grow to $32 billion by 2012.

1966

  • New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement enters into force

    The New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement enters into force, leading to the removal of 80% of tariffs and quantitative trade restrictions by the late 1970s.

1967

1969

  • Shipping containers revolutionise Australian trade

    The first purpose built container vessel, the Encounter Bay, visits Australia bringing goods from Europe. The vessel departed Rotterdam container terminal on 6 March 1969 and arrived at Fremantle on 28 March, Sydney on 3 April, and Melbourne on 10 April 1969. Prior to containerisation there was no standardised mechanism for the transport of goods. Goods arrived on the docks in various weights and sizes in barrels, sacks, crates, baskets and on pallets. They were loaded onto slings and hauled aboard. The advent of the standardised sizing system for the shipping container increased efficiency and lowered prices.

The 1970s

1970

  • Record wool production

    A record 180 million sheep produce approximately 890,000 tonnes of wool, but low international prices hit Australian producers.

1971

  • Australia joins OECD

    Australia joins the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Australia had been a member of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee since 1966.

  • Japan becomes Australia's top trading partner

    Australia's trade relationship with Japan strengthens. Japan displaces the United Kingdom as Australia's largest two-way trading partner.

1972

1973

  • Agriculture accounts for 44% of Australian exports

    Agriculture exports make up 44% of Australia’s exports, with mining exports at 17.9%. However, these proportions will more than reverse over the next 40 years.

  • Exports to Europe hit by restrictions

    Australian exporters experience tougher conditions as the European Economic Community (EEC) subjects non-members to import restrictions. Australia's agricultural exports begin to lose market share in Europe.

  • Tariff cuts implemented

    An across-the-board 25% tariff cut is implemented in Australia to reduce the cost of imports and control high inflation.

  • Trade post opens in Beijing

    An Australian Trade Commissioner's post is opened in Beijing, as part of the newly-established Australian embassy.

1974

  • EFIC is established

    The Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (EFIC) is established to help Australian exporters overcome financial barriers.

1976

  • Australia and Papua New Guinea sign trade agreement

    The Papua New Guinea-Australia Trade and Commercial Relations Agreement is signed following Papua New Guinea’s independence in 1975.

  • Australia and Japan grow closer

    The Basic Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, also known as the NARA Treaty (Nippon-Australia Relations Agreement), is signed with Japan in Tokyo.

  • Trade with Japan grows

    Exports to Japan reach a record 30% of Australia's total goods and services exports.

1978

  • China becomes Australia's 6th largest trading partner

    China becomes Australia's sixth largest trading partner as the Chinese government embarks on a major program of economic reform. China becomes Australia's top trading partner in 2006.

  • Incentive to export scheme created

    The Export Expansion Grants Scheme is created to promote growth in exports through grants to Australian exporters.

The 1980s

1981

  • SPARTECA enters into force

    The South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (SPARTECA) enters into force in Australia. It aims to increase exports from South Pacific Forum Island countries to Australia and New Zealand.

1982

  • Mining investment increases sharply

    Investment in mining, which started to pick up in the late 1970s, increases sharply.

1983

  • Australia and New Zealand trade agreement enters into force

    The Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (ANZCERTA or the CER Agreement) enters into force. It is recognised by the World Trade Organization as among the world's most comprehensive, effective and multilaterally compatible free trade agreements.

  • Australian dollar floated

    The Australian dollar is floated, integrating the Australian economy more fully with the international economy.

1984

  • Auto tariff protection peaks at 57.5%

    The rate of tariff protection for the Australian automotive industry peaks in the 1980s at 57.5%, prior to the phased reductions under the Button Plan. This rate was applied from 1979 until 1988.

1986

  • Australian made logo launched

    The ‘Australian Made, Australian Grown’ logo is launched, and is now used by more than 1,700 companies on some 10,000 products.

  • Austrade is established

    The Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) is established under the Australian Trade Commission Act 1985.

  • Cairns Group is established

    The Cairns Group of 14 agricultural exporting countries is established to facilitate liberalisation of global trade in agricultural commodities. Australia chairs this coalition of developed and developing countries from Latin America, Africa and the Asia Pacific region. It later expands to 19 members.

1987

  • Trade and Foreign Affairs merged

    The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is established when the Department of Trade and the Department of Foreign Affairs are merged.

1988

  • Australian tariffs slashed

    Major tariff cuts are announced to take place over four years. By 1992 tariffs are to be reduced to 10%, with some exceptions, including in the textile, clothing and footwear and passenger motor vehicle sectors.

  • Tourism emerges as major export

    The growth of inbound tourist arrivals to Australia hits an all-time high of 26% following a decade of strong growth (Paul Hogan’s “put another shrimp on the barbie” Tourism Australia commercial is a defining feature).

1989

  • APEC forum established

    The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum begins in 1989 as an informal ministerial-level dialogue group with 12 members. Australia hosts the inaugural annual meeting in Canberra after the Australian Government calls for more economic integration in the region. APEC soon becomes the premier forum to discuss trade and investment liberalisation in the Asia-Pacific.

  • Australia and New Zealand liberalise services trade

    The Protocol on Trade in Services to the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement comes into effect, allowing most services to be traded free of restriction across the Tasman.

  • Australia becomes world's largest coal exporter

  • Northeast Asian Ascendancy report calls for closer trade ties

    Ross Garnaut's Australia and the Northeast Asian Ascendancy report advocates closer trade ties with countries in north-east Asia and looks forward to the removal of all industry protection by the end of the century, including in the sensitive industries of textiles, clothing and footwear, and motor vehicles.

The 1990s

1990

  • Manufactured exports grow

    Between 1990 and 1999 the volume of Australia's manufactured exports grows at 12.7% per annum.

  • Tourist numbers swell

    International tourist numbers double to Australia over the previous decade and will double again over the next.

1991

  • Tariff reform continues

    Australia’s major tariff reform continues with the government’s announcement that protection for most manufactured goods will be phased down to 5% by 1996.

1992

  • Trade and investment framework with the United States concluded

    Australia and the United States conclude negotiations on a trade and investment framework arrangement.

1993

  • Quotas on TCF products removed

    Australia removes the last import quotas on textile, clothing and footwear products.

1996

  • The United States overtakes Japan as Australia's largest trading partner

1998

  • Modern gold rush takes place

    Australia exports over 503,000 kg of gold. This is five times the amount of gold discovered during the peak of Victoria’s gold rush in 1856.

  • Trade in services hits a high

    Australia’s trade in services hits 24.8% of total exports in 1998-99, up from 13.2% in 1972-73.

1999

  • Australia's foreign investment profile shifts

    The United Kingdom accounts for 35% of investment stock in Australia (down from 73% in 1949), but the US’ share has doubled to 32% since 1949. The sources of foreign investment have diversified with Japan (5.4%), the Netherlands (3%), Germany (2.2%) and Switzerland (2.1%) accounting for significant investments in Australia. Over the coming decade, Australia’s investment profile continues to diversify with investments by China, India, Singapore and the Republic of Korea.

  • Investing in the United States more popular over time

    Australia’s own investment overseas has changed significantly since 1949, with 41% of our foreign investment going to the United States (up from only 1% in 1949), while investment in the United Kingdom remains steady at 24%. But 27% of our foreign investment sits in countries such as Japan (4.6%), Hong Kong (SAR of China) (2.8%) and the Netherlands (2.6%).

The 2000s

2000

  • Sustained economic boom

    Australia enjoys a sustained economic boom averaging 3.9% GDP growth per annum (between 1990-91 and 2000-01). The boom is attributed to economic reforms introduced in the 1980s and 1990s, and growth in resources exports to East Asia.

  • Foreign investment stock rises

    Foreign investment stock in Australia reaches $677 billion, or the equivalent of over $35,500 per Australian.

2001

  • Imports of TCF products skyrocket

    Australia’s textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) market is increasingly dominated by imports. Imports’ share of clothing grows from 19% to 45% while footwear leaps from 35% to 65% and finished textiles from 18% to 32% over the decade to 2001.

2002

  • Australia ratifies PACER

    Australia ratifies the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER). The agreement deepens trade and investment between the members of the Pacific Island Forum.

2003

  • Dairy exports surge

    Total Australian dairy exports increase 200% since 1990.

  • International student numbers hit 300,000

    For the first time 300,000 international students are enrolled in Australian education institutions. Key source countries include China, India and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries.

  • Japan overtakes the United States to become Australia's largest trading partner

  • LDCs gain free access to Australian market

    Australia grants duty- and quota-free access to all products originating in least-developed countries (LDCs) and Timor-Leste from 1 July.

  • SAFTA enters into force

    The Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement enters into force on 28 July. Australia’s two way trade with Singapore will grow 113% between 2002-03 and 2012 (from $13.6 billion to $29.1 billion).

  • Automotive imports spike

    Australia's tariff reduction causes a spike in automotive imports.

2005

  • Australia, Brazil and Thailand win WTO legal case against the European Union on sugar

    Using the World Trade Organization's Dispute Settlement system, this case resulted in the European Union reducing export subsidies given to its sugar industry, thereby making it easier for other sugar producers to compete in the global sugar market.

  • Auto and TCF industry tariffs continue to drop

    The rate of tariff protection for the Australian automotive industry is reduced to 10%, from a peak of 57% in 1984, under the ‘Button Plan’. Tariffs on textiles and footwear are also reduced to 10%, while those on clothing fall to 15%.

  • Free Trade Agreements with the United States and Thailand enter into force

    The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) and the Thailand-Australia Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) enter into force on 1 January.

  • Iron ore exports outpace world exports

    Over the previous decade Australia's exports of iron ore grow 25% faster than total world exports of iron ore.

  • The Wiggles named Exporter of the Year

    The children's entertainment group The Wiggles is named Australia's Exporter of the Year.

2006

  • China becomes Australia's largest two-way trading partner

    China overtakes Japan to become Australia’s largest two-way trading partner.

2007

  • 200 year anniversary of Australian wool exports

    2007 marks 200 years since the first Australian wool export to England was sent by Captain Macarthur in 1807.

  • Australia part of global bread bowl

    Australia’s total wheat exports represent around 15% of world wheat trade. Australia exports wheat to over 40 countries.

  • New record set for Indigenous art

    Clifford Possum's painting ‘Warlugulong’ sells for $2.4 million at a Sotheby’s auction in Melbourne – a record high price for art by an Indigenous Australian. Sotherby’s estimates that half of all bidders of Indigenous art auctions are from overseas. Indigenous art is a significant Australian cultural export.

  • Record wine exports

    Australia’s wine exports hit a record value at $2.9 billion – up from $605 million in 1997.

2008

  • International student numbers hit record

    International student numbers hit a new record of 630,000. Australia’s international education activities generate over $15 billion of export income annually and supports more than 100,000 jobs.

  • International tourists flock to Australia

    A record 6 million short-term (staying for less than one year) arrivals are recorded, an increase of two million from 1998. In 2008-09 tourism accounts for 3.4% of Australia’s GDP.

2009

  • Australia-Chile Free Trade Agreement enters into force

    The Australia-Chile Free Trade Agreement enters into force on 6 March 2009.

The 2010s

2010

  • AANZFTA enters into force

    The ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA), Australia's first plurilateral trade agreement, enters into force on 1 January.

  • Aussie dollar surges

    The Australian dollar reaches parity with the US dollar for the first time since it was first floated in 1983.

  • More Australians take off overseas

    The number of Australian residents travelling overseas grows at an unprecedented rate. Since 2003, the annual increase in the number of Australians going overseas on short-term departures (holidays and business travel) averages 11% per year compared to just 4% per year for the 13 years prior.

  • Iron ore becomes Australia's most valuable export

    Iron ore overtakes coal to become Australia’s most valuable export, with $49.4 billion worth exported to overseas markets.

  • Record wine exports

    Australia exports a record 799 million litres of wine, more than a nine-fold increase on the 88 million litres exported in 1992.

  • Tariff protection for the car industry reduced

    Rate of tariff protection for the car industry is reduced to 5% on 1 January.

  • Terms of trade hit record high

    Australia enjoys record terms-of-trade, reaching 140 year highs. It is driven by exports of minerals, fuels, and education services.

  • The Asian Century

    Asia accounts for two-thirds of Australia’s trade in goods, an increase of 46% since 1960.

2011

  • Massive growth in iron ore exports

    Mining boom increases iron ore exports to 20.5% of Australia’s total exports, up from just 3.3% in 2001.

  • Merchandise trade with China hits $100 billion

    The value of Australia’s merchandise trade with China tops $100 billion for the first time.

2012

  • APEC thinks green

    The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum agrees on a list of environmental goods for tariff liberalisation by 2015.

  • Australian coal exports dominate

    Australia's coal exports make up over 37% of global coal exports. In 2012-13 a massive 335 million tonnes of coal is shipped from Australian ports and Australia is the world’s largest exporter of metallurgical coal used in steel production.

  • Australian economy becomes 12th largest in the world

    Australia ranks as the 12th largest economy in the world, up from 15th in 2006 (at market exchange rates).

  • Auto exports down as imports grow

    Automotive exports contract by an annual average of 3.9% over 10 years to 2012, while imports grow by an average of 4.9%.

  • Increase in tourists from China

    More than half a million Chinese tourists travel to Australia, an increase of 177% from 2001.

  • More and more international students choose Australia

    Education services continue as Australia's top services export with 402,388 international students studying in Australia, mostly from: China (29.5%), India (9.2%) and the Republic of Korea (5.2%)

  • Record wheat exports

    Australia exports a record 22.9 million tonnes of wheat - 22 times more wheat than Australia exported in 1910. Key customers include Indonesia, China and the Republic of Korea.

2013

  • Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement enters into force

    The Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement enters into force.

  • Minerals and energy grow in importance

    Over the past 40 years minerals and energy have grown to be 48.6% of Australia's exports, with agriculture reduced to 11.6%, a reversal of the situation in 1973.

2014

2015

  • Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement enters into force

    Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA) enters into force on 15 January 2015. JAEPA is the most liberalising trade agreement Japan has with any country.

  • Australia and China agree on landmark air services arrangements

    A new air services deal with China provides a boost for Australian tourism with Chinese airlines able to almost triple their services to Australia within two years.

  • Tourism arrivals boom

    Australian Bureau of Statistics tourism arrivals figures show for the year ending March 2015, international arrivals increased 8% to reach 7 million for the first time.

  • Australia and the US celebrate 10 years of Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement

    Two-way trade in goods and services between Australia and the United States increased from $41 billion in 2004, the year prior to the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement's entry into force, to more than $60 billion in 2014, while two-way investment more than doubled.

  • China-Australia Free Trade Agreement enters into force

    The China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) enters into force on 20 December 2015. Under ChAFTA 92.8 per cent of China's imports of resources, energy and manufacturing products from Australia enter duty free, with most remaining tariffs eliminated by 1 January 2019.

2016

  • Australia signs Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

    The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is signed by Australia and 11 other countries.

  • Australia renews commercial relationship with Iran

    Australia opens a trade office within the Australian Embassy in Tehran following the lifting of sanctions on Iran.

  • Tourism continues to boom

    Australia's tourism industry exceeds government and industry growth targets set for 2020.

  • Australia signs updated Australia-Singapore Free Trade Agreement

    Australia signs an update to its second oldest trade agreement granting greater access and certainty to certain sectors and a framework for mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

2017

  • Australian education exports reach record levels

    Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show international education is a key contributor to Australia's economy with enrolments surpassing 700,000 for the first time during 2016.

  • European Union-Australia Free Trade Agreement scoping exercise concludes

    After 18 months, Australia and the EU announce the successful conclusion of a joint scoping exercise on a free trade agreement and begin working on their respective negotiating mandates.

  • Negotiations on Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus conclude

    Australia along with New Zealand and 12 Pacific Island countries successfully conclude negotiations on PACER Plus - the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus, a trade and development agreement.

  • Australia calls for public submissions on a potential free trade agreement with Hong Kong

    The Australian Government announced it is taking the first steps towards a free trade agreement with Hong Kong by inviting public submissions on the prospective FTA.

  • Tourism spending soars above $40 billion

    Spending by international visitors reaches new high of $41.3 billion for the year ending December.

2018

  • China becomes largest source of tourists visiting Australia

    China overtakes New Zealand to become Australia's largest source of international visitors. More than 1.39 million Chinese visitors arrived in Australia in the year ending February 2018, an increase of 13.2 per cent.

  • Australia signs the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership

    In March 2018 Australia and ten other countries signed the CPTPP. The CPTPP (or TPP-11) is one of the most comprehensive trade deals ever concluded and will eliminate more than 98 per cent of tariffs in a trade zone with a combined GDP worth $13.7 trillion.

  • Australia and Peru sign Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement

    The free trade agreement with Peru will provide new opportunities for Australian exporters in one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

  • European Union-Australia Free Trade Agreement negotiations commence

    A free trade agreement with the European Union will open the door to a market of half a billion consumers and a GDP of US$17.3 trillion - making it one of Australia’s biggest trade agreements once concluded.

  • Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement negotiations conclude

    Australia and Hong Kong announce the conclusion of negotiations on a free trade agreement on 15 November 2018.

  • Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership enters into force

    Australian exporters are now able to claim new tariff reductions and better access in markets across the Americas and Asia following the entry into force of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP or TPP-11) on 30 December 2018.

2019

  • 76 WTO Members confirm intention to commence e-commerce negotiations

    Australia, Singapore and Japan hosted an informal meeting of World Trade Organization (WTO) members in January 2019. Following this meeting, 76 WTO Members confirmed their intention to commence WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of e-commerce.

  • Australia and Indonesia sign Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement

    On 4 March 2019 Australia and Indonesia signed the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in Jakarta. The agreement launches a new chapter in economic relations between Australia and Indonesia.

  • Australia and Hong Kong sign Free Trade Agreement

    On 26 March 2019 Australia and Hong Kong signed the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement and associated Investment Agreement, securing more certainty and opportunities for Australian farmers, businesses and investors.

Timeline for World

The 1900s

1903

  • Protectionist movement starts in United Kingdom

    A protectionist tariff reform movement starts in the United Kingdom, however higher tariffs are not implemented until the 1930s.

1907

  • Financial crisis wipes 50% off New York Stock Exchange

    Panic of 1907 financial crisis hits the United States, causing the New York Stock Exchange to lose half its value.

The 1910s

1910

  • World's oldest continuous customs union established

    The world's oldest customs union still in existence, the Southern African Customs Union, is established, consisting of South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland.

1913

  • Europeans dominate world trade

    The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary and Russia dominate world trade, with the United Kingdom alone accounting for 13% of world merchandise exports.

1916

  • Panama Canal opens

    One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal, halves the travel time for ships between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In 2005, 5% of worldwide shipping traffic passed through the Panama Canal, including nearly 70% of all cargo to and from the United States.

The 1920s

1921

  • Short economic boom arrives

    A short-lived post-war economic boom that lasts until the Great Depression is led by the United States. The boom is attributed in part to advances in mass production and technology.

1923

  • United States adopts MFN principle

    The United States formally adopts the unconditional most-favoured-nation (MFN) principle as a cornerstone of trade policy replacing the conditional MFN policy practiced since independence. The MFN principle, that countries cannot normally discriminate between their trading partners, is the first article in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which comes into effect in 1948, and governs trade in goods.

1929

  • Great Depression hits

    Stock market prices collapse in the United States (Black Tuesday) triggering the start of the Great Depression, which lasts until 1932.

The 1930s

1930

  • Bank for International Settlements established

    The Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the principal body for international central bank cooperation in pursuit of monetary and financial stability, is established in Basel, Switzerland. The BIS continues to contribute to central bank coordination today.

  • Trade falls as protectionism increases

    Widespread increases in tariffs and other protectionist measures are implemented, resulting in a reduction of global trade by two-thirds.

1931

  • United Kingdom devalues pound to boost competitiveness

    The United Kingdom leaves the gold standard in an effort to devalue the Pound sterling and boost competitiveness.

1932

  • United Kingdom raises tariffs

    In response to the Great Depression and protectionist measures elsewhere the United Kingdom increases all tariffs by 10%.

1934

  • United States President gains trade powers

    The Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act is enacted in the United States. The Act grants the President the power to levy tariffs and negotiate bilateral trade agreements without the consent of Congress.

1938

  • Start of standardisation of trade statistics classification systems

    The League of Nations publishes the Minimum List of Commodities for International Trade Statistics, an early step towards standardisation of trade statistics classification systems, which is important for international trade statistics and customs facilitation.

The 1940s

1940

  • United States allows importation of Australian wool

    The United States War Department suspends the requirement that only US domestic wool be used in military orders for clothing and blankets.

1944

  • United Nations structure established

    The Dumbarton Oaks Conference between the US, USSR, the UK and China agree to the structure of what will become the United Nations.

1946

  • Bretton Woods system established

    A new system of rules, institutions, and procedures is established to regulate the international monetary system. It aims to avoid the international economic dynamics that harmed global prosperity in the 1930s, including countries devaluing their currencies to gain a trade advantage. The global economy is to be managed by institutions including the International Monetary Fund and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (later the World Bank). Currencies are stabilised by linking their value to gold, and the US dollar. The system lasts with various alterations until the US delinks its currency from gold in the early 1970s. The World Bank and IMF continue to contribute to global economic development and financial stability today.

1947

  • The birth of the GATT

    On 30 October 1947, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was signed by 23 nations, including Australia, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The Agreement contained 45,000 tariff concessions covering US$10 billion in trade agreed to during the first multilateral trade negotiations and a set of rules designed to prevent these concessions from being frustrated by restrictive trade measures. The GATT came into effect in January 1948.

  • International Trade Organization stalls

    Negotiations take place in Havana, Cuba, to create an International Trade Organization (ITO) as a specialised agency of the United Nations. An ITO Charter is agreed in Havana in March 1948, but ratification in some national legislatures does not occur and it is not established. The rules for global trade are instead progressed through negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) until the World Trade Organization is created in 1995.

1948

1949

  • GATT Annecy Round takes place

    The Annecy Round of the GATT is held from April to August in Annecy, France, with countries exchanging some 5,000 tariff concessions.

The 1950s

1950

  • GATT Torquay Round takes place

    The Torquay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) takes place in Torquay, England, from September 1950 to April 1951. The Round achieves 8,700 tariff concessions, cutting 1948 tariff levels by 25%.

1956

  • GATT Geneva Round takes place

    The Geneva Round ends in May and achieves US$2.5 billion in tariff reductions across 26 countries.

The 1960s

1960

  • GATT Dillon Round takes place

    The Dillon Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), concluding in July 1962, achieves about 4,400 tariff concessions covering US$4.9 billion of world trade across 26 countries. The Round was named in honour of US Under-Secretary of State Douglas Dillon who proposed the negotiations.

1963

  • European Trade preferences granted to ex-colonies in Africa

    The European Economic Community grants trade preferences and aid to 18 African ex-colonies with the signature of the Yaoundé Convention 1964 in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

1964

  • GATT Kennedy Round takes place

    The Kennedy Round of the GATT commences in May 1964 and concludes in June 1967. It is the first multilateral round to deal with non-tariff measures, and achieves concessions covering an estimated total value of trade of about US$40 billion across 50 countries accounting for 75% of world trade.

1967

  • Code on Anti-Dumping finalised

    A Code on Anti-Dumping is finalised as part of the GATT Kennedy Round. The Code set out rules for the application of Anti-Dumping duties. Australia became a signatory to the Code in 1975.

  • International Grains Agreement established

    The International Grains Agreement is established as part of the GATT Kennedy Round and secures a better deal for Australian wheat.

1968

  • New International Sugar Agreement negotiated

    The multilateral agreement on sugar involving both exporting and importing countries aims to control export supplies to help stabilise international raw sugar prices. It establishes the International Sugar Organization (successor to the International Sugar Council which operated under the International Sugar Agreement of 1958).

The 1970s

1971

  • World Economic Forum established

    The World Economic Forum is established in Davos, Switzerland, as the European Management Forum until a name change in 1987. It is formally recognised as an international organisation in 2015.

1973

  • GATT Tokyo Round takes place

    The Tokyo Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) commences in the capital city in September 1973, and lasts until November 1979. The Round achieves tariff reductions and bindings that cover more than US$300 billion of trade across 99 countries.

1974

  • International agreement on customs procedures enters into force

    The International Convention on the Simplification and Harmonization of Customs Procedures (Kyoto Convention) enters into force, simplifying and harmonising national customs procedures.

The 1980s

1986

  • GATT Uruguay Round takes place

    The Uruguay Round of the GATT commences in February 1987 and concludes in December 1993. The Round leads to the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995 and extends the range of trade negotiations, leading to major reductions in tariffs (about 40%) and agricultural subsidies. It establishes an agreement to allow full market access for textiles and clothing from developing countries, and an extension of intellectual property rights and, importantly, covers trade in services for the first time.

1987

  • United States stock market crash

    A stock market crash on Wall Street spreads globally overnight. The worst crash since 1929, US markets fall 36% and Australian shares collapse 50% from their pre-crash high.

1988

  • GATT Harmonized System is adopted

    Most members of the GATT adopt the new Harmonized System, an international system of classification for products that is central to trade statistics and negotiations today.

The 1990s

1993

  • First APEC Leader's Meeting held

    The first Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leader's Meeting is held on Blake Island, in Washington State, in the United States. APEC’s vision 'stability, security, prosperity for our peoples' is established.

  • The ASEAN Free Trade Area starts on 1 January

    The ASEAN Free Trade Area comes into force on 1 January.

1994

  • APEC Bogor Declaration

    The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Bogor Declaration commits members to free trade and investment by 2010 for developed countries and 2020 for developing countries.

  • GATT Uruguay Round ends

    After more than seven years of negotiations, the Uruguay Round of the GATT closes. Participants agree to a range of measures to increase market access by reducing and eliminating barriers to trade.

1995

  • The WTO is established

    The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organisation dealing with the rules of trade between nations. It aims to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business.

1996

  • Information Technology Agreement at the WTO

    The Ministerial Declaration on Trade and Information Technology Products at the World Trade Organization is concluded by 29 participants in Singapore. In 2014 it covers 70 participants and 97% of world trade in IT products.

1999

  • G20 is established

    The Group of Twenty (G20) is established as a forum for finance ministers and central bank governors to address the most important issues of the global economic and financial agenda. The Global Financial Crisis prompts the first meeting of G20 leaders in 2008.

The 2000s

2001

  • WTO Doha Round commences

    The World Trade Organization's Doha Round commences in Qatar. The Doha Ministerial Declaration mandates negotiations on a wide range of issues and has a strong focus on development.

2005

  • WTO reforms textiles and clothing trade

    The WTO reforms textiles and clothing trade, eliminating restrictions on import quantities.

The 2010s

2013

  • WTO negotiates first new agreement between all Members

    World Trade Organization Members conclude negotiations on a Trade Facilitation Agreement.

2015

  • WTO Members agree to abolish agricultural export subsidies

    All 163 Members of the World Trade Organization agree to abolish all agriculture export subsidies, estimated to be worth more than $15 billion in the WTO's first outcome on agriculture in 20 years.

2017

  • WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation enters into force

    The first new agreement among all World Trade Organization Members in more than 20 years enters into force. The Agreement on Trade Facilitation promises to make it easier for Australian businesses to export, reducing trade costs by more than 10 per cent for OECD countries at full implementation.

  • United Kingdom triggers Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union to leave the European Union

    The United Kingdom confirms its decision to leave the European Union in a letter to the President of the European Council.

  • The United States withdraws from the TPP Agreement

    The United States formally withdraws from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

2018

  • WTO downgrades outlook for global trade as risks accumulate

    WTO economists expect escalating trade tensions and tighter credit market conditions in important markets will slow trade growth in 2018 and 2019.

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Snapshots

1900s
Snapshot

  • 1901

    Top 5 Goods Export Destinations

    1. 1 United Kingdom A$50.4 million 50.7% of exports
    2. 2 South Africa (Cape Colony) A$12.6 million 12.7% of exports
    3. 3 United States A$6.9 million 7.0% of exports
    4. 4 Sri Lanka (Ceylon) A$5.5 million 5.5% of exports
    5. 5 Germany A$5.1 million 5.1% of exports

    Total goods exports A$99.4 million

  • 1901

    Top 5 Goods Import Sources

    1. 1 United Kingdom A$50.5 million 59.5% of imports
    2. 2 United States A$11.7 million 13.8% of imports
    3. 3 Germany A$5.6 million 6.6% of imports
    4. 4 New Zealand A$3.6 million 4.3% of imports
    5. 5 India A$2.4 million 2.8% of imports

    Total goods imports A$84.8 million

  • 1901

    Top 5 Goods Exports

    1. 1 Wool A$30.5 million
    2. 2 Gold coin A$17.8 million
    3. 3 Gold bullion A$9.2 million
    4. 4 Wheat A$5.5 million
    5. 5 Butter A$2.9 million
  • 1900-1901

    Economic/Trade Profile:

    • World population 1,650 million 1900
    • Australian population 3.83 million 1901
    • Gross domestic product A$419 million 1900-01
    • Real GDP growth rate 3.8% decade average
    • Unemployment rate 5.7% decade average
    • Goods two-way trade
      to GDP ratio
      42.7% 1901
    • Goods two-way trade
      growth rate
      4.7% decade average

1910s
Snapshot

  • 1914-15

    Top 5 Goods Export Destinations

    1. 1 United Kingdom A$77.1 million 62.0% of exports
    2. 2 United States A$10.1 million 8.1% of exports
    3. 3 New Zealand A$5.6 million 4.5% of exports
    4. 4 South Africa A$4.0 million 3.3% of exports
    5. 5 Japan A$3.9 million 3.2% of exports

    Total goods exports A$124.4 million

  • 1914-15

    Top 5 Goods Import Sources

    1. 1 United Kingdom A$75.8 million 58.8% of imports
    2. 2 United States A$19.2 million 14.9% of imports
    3. 3 India A$5.5 million 4.3% of imports
    4. 4 New Zealand A$4.2 million 3.3% of imports
    5. 5 Canada A$3.0 million 2.3% of imports

    Total goods imports A$128.9 million

  • 1914-15

    Top 5 Goods Exports

    1. 1 Wool A$44.2 million
    2. 2 Beef A$10.0 million
    3. 3 Butter A$5.3 million
    4. 4 Mutton A$4.5 million
    5. 5 Gold coin A$3.9 million
  • 1914-15

    Economic/Trade Profile:

    • World population 1,750 million 1910
    • Australian population 4.97 million 1915
    • Gross domestic product A$838 million 1914-15
    • Real GDP growth rate 1.0% decade average
    • Unemployment rate 3.7% decade average
    • Goods two-way trade
      to GDP ratio
      30.2% 1914-15
    • Goods two-way trade
      growth rate
      5.2% decade average

1920s
Snapshot

  • 1924-25

    Top 5 Goods Export Destinations

    1. 1 United Kingdom A$138.3 million 42.0% of exports
    2. 2 France A$39.9 million 12.1% of exports
    3. 3 Japan A$23.3 million 7.1% of exports
    4. 4 Italy A$20.0 million 6.1% of exports
    5. 5 United States A$18.4 million 5.6% of exports

    Total goods exports A$329.5 million

  • 1924-25

    Top 5 Goods Import Sources

    1. 1 United Kingdom A$138.1 million 43.9% of imports
    2. 2 United States A$77.8 million 24.6% of imports
    3. 3 India A$12.8 million 4.1% of imports
    4. 4 Indonesia A$11.3 million 3.6% of imports
    5. 5 South Africa A$10.4 million 3.3% of imports

    Total goods imports A$314.3 million

  • 1924-25

    Top 5 Goods Exports

    1. 1 Wool A$144.1 million
    2. 2 Wheat A$69.2 million
    3. 3 Butter A$20.0 million
    4. 4 Flour A$12.4 million
    5. 5 Beef A$8.3 million
  • 1924-1925

    Economic/Trade Profile:

    • World population 1,860 million 1920
    • Australian population 6.00 million 1925
    • Gross domestic product A$1,722 million 1924-25
    • Real GDP growth rate 3.3% decade average
    • Unemployment rate 6.0% decade average
    • Goods two-way trade
      to GDP ratio
      37.4% 1924-25
    • Goods two-way trade
      growth rate
      1.1% decade average
  • Did you know?

    In 1928-29, imports from France total A$7.4 million and include silk goods, accessories, clothing, woollens and perfumery. Imports from Germany total A$9.1 million and include machinery and metal manufactures, toys, pianos, timepieces and other ‘fancy goods’.

1930s
Snapshot

  • 1934-35

    Top 5 Goods Export Destinations

    1. 1 United Kingdom A$127.9 million 55.5% of exports
    2. 2 Japan A$24.2 million 10.5% of exports
    3. 3 Belgium A$12.2 million 5.3% of exports
    4. 4 France A$9.5 million 4.1% of exports
    5. 5 China A$8.2 million 3.5% of exports

    Total goods exports A$230.5 million

  • 1934-35

    Top 5 Goods Import Sources

    1. 1 United Kingdom A$61.6 million 41.5% of imports
    2. 2 United States A$22.1 million 14.9% of imports
    3. 3 Japan A$9.2 million 6.2% of imports
    4. 4 Indonesia A$8.8 million 5.9% of imports
    5. 5 Canada A$8.2 million 5.5% of imports

    Total goods imports A$148.2 million

  • 1934-35

    Top 5 Goods Exports

    1. 1 Wool A$78.5 million
    2. 2 Wheat A$23.2 million
    3. 3 Gold A$19.6 million
    4. 4 Butter A$19.2 million
    5. 5 Flour A$9.2 million
  • 1934-35

    Economic/Trade Profile:

    • World population 2,070 million 1930
    • Australian population 6.76 million 1935
    • Gross domestic product A$1,432 million 1934-35
    • Real GDP growth rate 2.0% decade average
    • Unemployment rate 13.0% decade average
    • Goods two-way trade
      to GDP ratio
      26.4% 1934-35
    • Goods two-way trade
      growth rate
      4.9% decade average
  • Did you know?

    In 1934-35, Australia imports A$82,726 worth of sheep-shearing machines.

1940s
Snapshot

  • 1944-45

    Top 5 Goods Export Destinations

    1. 1 United Kingdom A$104.2 million 31.3% of exports
    2. 2 United States A$61.5 million 18.5% of exports
    3. 3 India A$31.6 million 9.5% of exports
    4. 4 New Zealand A$14.2 million 4.3% of exports
    5. 5 Sri Lanka A$13.7 million 4.1% of exports

    Total goods exports A$333.3 million

  • 1944-45

    Top 5 Goods Import Sources

    1. 1 United States A$166.2 million 38.6% of imports
    2. 2 United Kingdom A$140.7 million 30.7% of imports
    3. 3 India A$36.8 million 8.6% of imports
    4. 4 Canada A$20.8 million 4.8% of imports
    5. 5 Iran (Persia) A$16.0 million 3.7% of imports

    Total goods imports A$430.0 million

  • 1944-45

    Top 5 Goods Exports

    1. 1 Wool A$98.8 million
    2. 2 Wheat A$19.5 million
    3. 3 Butter A$16.5 million
    4. 4 Flour A$13.5 million
    5. 5 Pig metal A$11.1 million
  • 1944-45

    Economic/Trade Profile:

    • World population 2,300 million 1940
    • Australian population 7.43 million 1945
    • Gross domestic product A$2,842 million 1944-45
    • Real GDP growth rate 3.8% decade average
    • Unemployment rate 2.0% decade average
    • Goods two-way trade
      to GDP ratio
      26.9% 1944-45
    • Goods two-way trade
      growth rate
      14.0% decade average

1950s
Snapshot

  • 1954-55

    Top 5 Goods Export Destinations

    1. 1 United Kingdom A$571.0 million 36.3% of exports
    2. 2 France A$128.1 million 8.1% of exports
    3. 3 Japan A$117.1 million 7.4% of exports
    4. 4 United States A$105.2 million 6.7% of exports
    5. 5 New Zealand A$75.6 million 4.8% of exports

    Total goods exports A$1,575 million

  • 1954-55

    Top 5 Goods Import Sources

    1. 1 United Kingdom A$757.3 million 44.9% of imports
    2. 2 United States A$204.3 million 12.1% of imports
    3. 3 Germany A$63.1 million 3.7% of imports
    4. 4 India A$52.1 million 3.1% of imports
    5. 5 Canada A$47.7 million 2.8% of imports

    Total goods imports A$1,687 million

  • 1954-55

    Top 5 Goods Exports

    1. 1 Wool A$706.2 million
    2. 2 Wheat A$90.4 million
    3. 3 Sugar A$62.5 million
    4. 4 Butter A$49.2 million
    5. 5 Beef & veal A$43.8 million
  • 1954-55

    Top Services Trade Types

    Total services exports A$150 million
    1. 1 Transport A$111 million
    2. 2 Government A$14 million
    3. 3 Travel A$12 million
    Total services imports A$345 million
    1. 1 Transport A$221 million
    2. 2 Travel A$43 million
    3. 3 Government A$37 million
  • 1954-55

    Economic/Trade Profile:

    • World population 2,782 million 1955
    • Australian population 9.31 million 1955
    • Gross domestic product A$9,603 million 1954-55
    • Real GDP growth rate 4.2% decade average
    • Unemployment rate 1.9% decade average
    • Two-way trade
      to GDP ratio
      38.4% 1954-55
    • Two-way trade
      growth rate
      3.0% decade average

1960s
Snapshot

  • 1964-65

    Top 5 Goods Export Destinations

    1. 1 United Kingdom A$516.2 million 19.2% of exports
    2. 2 Japan A$440.7 million 16.4% of exports
    3. 3 United States A$264.2 million 9.9% of exports
    4. 4 New Zealand A158.3 million 5.6% of exports
    5. 5 China A$135.6 million 5.1% of exports

    Total goods exports A$2,682 million

  • 1964-65

    Top 5 Goods Import Sources

    1. 1 United Kingdom A$761.4 million 26.2% of imports
    2. 2 United States A$692.2 million 23.8% of imports
    3. 3 Japan A$258.6 million 8.9% of imports
    4. 4 Germany A$171.3 million 5.9% of imports
    5. 5 Canada A$117.0 million 4.0% of imports

    Total goods imports A$2,905 million

  • 1964-65

    Top 5 Goods Exports

    1. 1 Wool A$805.9 million
    2. 2 Wheat A$297.2 million
    3. 3 Beef & veal A$200.4 million
    4. 4 Sugar A$114.0 million
    5. 5 Butter A$62.2 million
  • 1964-65

    Top Services Trade Types

    Total services exports A$445 million
    1. 1 Other transport
      services (a)
      A$193 million
    2. 2 Passenger transport services A$78 million
    3. 3 Personal travel (excl education) A$12 million
    Total services imports A$792 million
    1. 1 Freight services A$298 million
    2. 2 Other transport
      services (a)
      A$129 million
    3. 3 Personal travel (excl education) A$323 million

    (a) Covers a range of services provided in Australian airports and ports such as cargo & baggage handling services.

  • 1964-65

    Economic/Trade Profile:

    • World population 3,350 million 1965
    • Australian population 11.51 million 1965
    • Gross domestic product A$23,153 million 1964-65
    • Real GDP growth rate 5.1% decade average
    • Unemployment rate 1.9% decade average
    • Two-way trade
      to GDP ratio
      28.5% 1964-65
    • Two-way trade
      growth rate
      7.8% decade average

1970s
Snapshot

  • 1974-75

    Top 5 Goods Export Destinations

    1. 1 Japan A$2,456 million 27.6% of exports
    2. 2 United States A$831.5 million 9.4% of exports
    3. 3 New Zealand A$529.3 million 6.0% of exports
    4. 4 United Kingdom A$475.1 million 5.3% of exports
    5. 5 Germany A$311.3 million 3.5% of exports

    Total goods exports A$8,885 million

  • 1974-75

    Top 5 Goods Import Sources

    1. 1 United States A$1,668 million 20.6% of imports
    2. 2 Japan A$1,418 million 17.5% of imports
    3. 3 United Kingdom A$1,214 million 15.0% of imports
    4. 4 Germany A$585.8 million 7.3% of imports
    5. 5 Canada A$217.1 million 2.7% of imports

    Total goods imports A$8,080 million

  • 1974-75

    Top 5 Goods Exports

    1. 1 Wheat & flour A$1,079 million
    2. 2 Wool & sheep skins A$816 million
    3. 3 Coal, coke & briquettes A$733 million
    4. 4 Iron ores & concentrates A$706 million
    5. 5 Sugar & honey A$661 million
  • 1974-75

    Services Trade Locations (selected countries)

    Exports
    A$1,504 million
    • United States A$204 million
    • United Kingdom A$299 million
    • Japan A$147 million
    • New Zealand A$150 million
    Imports
    A$2,782 million
    • United States A$373 million
    • United Kingdom A$659 million
    • Japan A$160 million
    • New Zealand A$285 million
  • 1974-75

    Top Services Trade Types

    Total services exports A$1,504 million
    1. 1 Other transport services (a) A$545 million
    2. 2 Personal travel A$215 million
    3. 3 Passenger transport services A$143 million
    Total services imports A$2,782 million
    1. 1 Freight services A$789 million
    2. 2 Personal travel A$568 million
    3. 3 Passenger transport services A$323 million

    (a) Covers a range of services provided in Australian airports and ports such as cargo & baggage handling services.

  • 1974-75

    Economic/Trade Profile:

    • World population 4,089 million 1975
    • Australian population 13.97 million 1975
    • Gross domestic product A$71,105 million 1974-75
    • Real GDP growth rate 3.0% decade average
    • Unemployment rate 4.1% decade average
    • Two-way trade
      to GDP ratio
      29.1% 1974-75
    • Two-way trade
      growth rate
      17.1% decade average

1980s
Snapshot

  • 1984-85

    Top 5 Goods Export Destinations

    1. 1 Japan A$8.0 billion 26.9% of exports
    2. 2 United States A$3.5 billion 11.6% of exports
    3. 3 New Zealand A1.5 billion 5.2% of exports
    4. 4 Republic of Korea A$1.2 billion 3.9% of exports
    5. 5 China A$1.1 billion 3.6% of exports

    Total goods exports A$29.7 billion

  • 1984-85

    Top 5 Goods Import Sources

    1. 1 Japan A$6.4 billion 22.7% of imports
    2. 2 United States A$6.4 billion 22.1% of imports
    3. 3 United Kingdom A$2.0 billion 6.8% of imports
    4. 4 Germany A$1.8 billion 6.3% of imports
    5. 5 New Zealand A$1.1 billion 3.8% of imports

    Total goods imports A$29.0 billion

  • 1984-85

    Top 5 Goods Exports

    1. 1 Coal A$4.7 billion
    2. 2 Wheat A$2.9 billion
    3. 3 Wool A$2.3 billion
    4. 4 Iron ores & concentrates A$1.8 billion
    5. 5 Aluminium ores & concentrates A$1.4 billion
  • 1984-85

    Top 5 Goods Imports

    1. 1 Refined petroleum A$1.3 billion
    2. 2 Motor vehicles for transporting goods A$1.3 billion
    3. 3 Computers A$1.0 billion
    4. 4 Passenger motor vehicles A$1.0 billion
    5. 5 Crude petroleum A$0.9 billion
  • 1984-85

    Services Trade Locations (selected countries)

    Exports
    A$5.6 billion
    • United States A$0.9 billion
    • United Kingdom A$0.8 billion
    • Japan A$0.7 billion
    • New Zealand A$0.6 billion
    Imports
    A$10.3 billion
    • United States A$1.5 billion
    • United Kingdom A$1.0 billion
    • Japan A$0.9 billion
    • New Zealand A$0.6 billion
  • 1984-85

    Top Services Trade Types

    Total services exports A$5.6 billion
    1. 1 Other transport
      services (a)
      A$1.4 billion
    2. 3 Personal travel (excl education) A$1.2 billion
    3. 2 Passenger transport services A$0.6 billion
    Total services imports A$10.3 billion
    1. 1 Freight services A$2.5 billion
    2. 2 Personal travel (excl education) A$2.1 billion
    3. 3 Passenger transport
      services
      A$1.2illion

    (a) Covers a range of services provided in Australian airports and ports such as cargo & baggage handling services.

  • 1984-85

    International investment position (stocks) end Jun 1985

    Total foreign investment in Australia
    A$111.2 billion
    • United States A$26.3 billion
    • United Kingdom A$25.9 billion
    • Japan A$16.2 billion
    • Singapore A$8.9 billion
    • Switzerland A$4.1 billion
    Total Australia investment abroad
    A$34.1 billion
    • United States A$12.2 billion
    • United Kingdom A$2.5 billion
    • Japan A$1.3 billion
    • Papua New Guinea A$1.0 billion
    • Hong Kong (SAR of China) A$1.0 billion
  • 1984-85

    Economic/Trade Profile:

    • World population 4,850 million 1985
    • Australian population 15.90 million 1985
    • Gross domestic product A$235,013 million 1984-85
    • Real GDP growth rate 3.4% decade average
    • Unemployment rate 7.6% decade average
    • Two-way trade
      to GDP ratio
      32.6% 1984-85
    • Two-way trade
      growth rate
      11.7% decade average

1990s
Snapshot

  • 1994-95

    Top 5 Goods Export Destinations

    1. 1 Japan A$16.3 billion 24.3% of exports
    2. 2 Republic of Korea A$5.3 billion 7.8% of exports
    3. 3 New Zealand A$4.8 billion 7.1% of exports
    4. 4 United States A$4.6 billion 6.9% of exports
    5. 5 Singapore A$3.6 billion 5.4% of exports

    Total goods exports A$67.1 billion

  • 1994-95

    Top 5 Goods Import Sources

    1. 1 United States A$16.0 billion 21.5% of imports
    2. 2 Japan A$12.8 billion 17.1% of imports
    3. 3 Germany A$4.9 billion 6.5% of imports
    4. 4 United Kingdom A$4.4 billion 5.9% of imports
    5. 5 China A$3.6 billion 4.9% of imports

    Total goods imports A$74.6 billion

  • 1994-95

    Top 5 Goods Exports

    1. 1 Coal A$6.9 billion
    2. 2 Wool A$3.9 billion
    3. 3 Beef A$2.9 billion
    4. 4 Gold A$4.7 billion
    5. 5 Iron ores & concentrates A$2.8 billion
  • 1994-95

    Top 5 Goods Imports

    1. 1 Passenger motor vehicles A$4.4 billion
    2. 2 Computers A$3.2 billion
    3. 3 Crude petroleum A$2.5 billion
    4. 4 Telecom equipment & parts A$2.2 billion
    5. 5 Computer parts & accessories A$2.1 billion
  • 1994-95

    Services Trade Locations (selected countries)

    Exports
    A$21.4 billion
    • United States A$2.4 billion
    • United Kingdom A$1.9 billion
    • Japan A$3.4 billion
    • New Zealand A$1.3 billion
    • China A$0.4 billion
    Imports
    A$23.1 billion
    • United States A$4.3 billion
    • United Kingdom A$3.6 billion
    • Japan A$1.7 billion
    • New Zealand A$1.0 billion
    • China A$0.4 billion
  • 1994-95

    Top Services Trade Types

    Total services exports A$21.4 billion
    1. 1 Personal travel (excl education) A$7.4 billion
    2. 2 Passenger transport services A$2.8 billion
    3. 3 Education-related travel A$2.1 billion
    Total services imports A$23.1 billion
    1. 1 Freight services A$4.7 billion
    2. 2 Personal travel (excl education) A$4.5 billion
    3. 3 Passenger transport services A$3.2 billion
  • 1994-95

    International investment position (stocks) end Jun 1995

    Total foreign investment in Australia
    A$430.8 billion
    • United States A$96.4 billion
    • United Kingdom A$83.9 billion
    • Japan A$50.0 billion
    • Hong Kong (SAR of China) A$16.2 billion
    • Netherlands A$12.5 billion
    Total Australia investment abroad
    A$175.3 billion
    • United States A$39.6 billion
    • United Kingdom A$33.6 billion
    • New Zealand A$13.8 billion
    • Japan A$9.3 billion
    • Hong Kong (SAR of China) A$7.5 billion
  • 1994-95

    Economic/Trade Profile:

    • World population 5,696 million 1995
    • Australian population 18.12 million 1995
    • Gross domestic product A$527,599 million 1994-95
    • Real GDP growth rate 3.3% decade average
    • Unemployment rate 8.8% decade average
    • Two-way trade
      to GDP ratio
      37.8% 1994-95
    • Two-way trade
      growth rate
      7.7% decade average

2000s
Snapshot

  • 2004-05

    Top 5 Goods Export Destinations

    1. 1 Japan A$25.0 billion 19.7% of exports
    2. 2 China A$13.0 billion 10.3% of exports
    3. 3 Republic of Korea A$9.7 billion 7.7% of exports
    4. 4 United States A$9.5 billion 7.5% of exports
    5. 5 New Zealand A$9.2 billion 7.2% of exports

    Total goods exports A$126.8 billion

  • 2004-05

    Top 5 Goods Import Sources

    1. 1 United States A$21.3 billion 14.2% of imports
    2. 2 China A$19.8 billion 13.3% of imports
    3. 3 Japan A$17.1 billion 11.5% of imports
    4. 4 Germany A$8.6 billion 5.8% of imports
    5. 5 Singapore A$7.2 billion 4.8% of imports

    Total goods imports A$149.5 billion

  • 2004-05

    Top 5 Goods Exports

    1. 1 Coal A$17.1 billion
    2. 2 Iron ores & concentrates A$8.1 billion
    3. 3 Crude petroleum A$5.7 billion
    4. 4 Gold A$5.6 billion
    5. 5 Beef A$4.9 billion
  • 2004-05

    Top 5 Goods Imports

    1. 1 Passenger motor vehicles A$11.6 billion
    2. 2 Crude petroleum A$9.7 billion
    3. 3 Computers A$5.8 billion
    4. 4 Medicaments (incl veterinary) A$5.7 billion
    5. 5 Telecom equipment & parts A$5.0 billion
  • 2004-05

    Services Trade Locations (selected countries)

    Exports
    A$40.7 billion
    • United States A$4.6 billion
    • United Kingdom A$4.8 billion
    • New Zealand A$3.3 billion
    • Singapore A$2.6 billion
    • China A$2.9 billion
    Imports
    A$42.1 billion
    • United States A$6.6 billion
    • United Kingdom A$4.9 billion
    • New Zealand A$2.2 billion
    • Singapore A$2.7 billion
    • China A$1.4 billion
  • 2004-05

    Top Services Trade Types

    Total services exports A$40.7 billion
    1. 1 Personal travel (excl education) A$13.0 billion
    2. 2 Education-related travel A$8.6 billion
    3. 3 Passenger transport services A$3.9 billion
    Total services imports A$42.1 billion
    1. 1 Personal travel (excl education) A$14.4 billion
    2. 2 Freight services A$7.7 billion
    3. 3 Passenger transport services A$5.5 billion
  • 2004-05

    International investment position (stocks) end Dec 2005

    Total foreign investment in Australia
    A$1,305 billion
    • United States A$334.0 billion
    • United Kingdom A$299.7 billion
    • Japan A$51.0 billion
    • Hong Kong (SAR of China) A$31.6 billion
    • Netherlands A$28.7 billion
    Total Australia investment abroad
    A$776 billion
    • United States A$303.1 billion
    • United Kingdom A$88.6 billion
    • New Zealand A$61.5 billion
    • Japan A$31.8 billion
    • Netherlands A$26.1 billion
  • 2004-05

    Economic/Trade Profile:

    • World population 6,467 million 2005
    • Australian population 20.31 million 2005
    • Gross domestic product A$921,352 million 2004-05
    • Real GDP growth rate 3.0% decade average
    • Unemployment rate 5.4% decade average
    • Two-way trade
      to GDP ratio
      39.3% 2004-05
    • Two-way trade
      growth rate
      7.2% decade average

2010s
Snapshot

  • 2014-15

    Top 5 Goods Export Destinations

    1. 1 China A$75.4 billion 29.6% of exports
    2. 2 Japan A$44.4 billion 17.5% of exports
    3. 3 Republic of Korea A$18.8 billion 7.4% of exports
    4. 4 United States A$13.4 billion 5.2% of exports
    5. 5 India A$9.7 billion 3.8% of exports

    Total goods exports A$255.5 billion

  • 2014-15

    Top 5 Goods Import Sources

    1. 1 China A$57.1 billion 22.2% of imports
    2. 2 United States A$30.4 billion 11.8% of imports
    3. 3 Japan A$18.3 billion 7.1% of imports
    4. 4 Republic of Korea A$14.2 billion 5.5% of imports
    5. 5 Thailand A$12.1 billion 4.7% of imports

    Total goods imports A$257.0 billion

  • 2014-15

    Top 5 Goods Exports

    1. 1 Iron ores & concentrates A$54.5 billion
    2. 2 Coal A$37.9 billion
    3. 3 Natural gas A$16.9 billion
    4. 4 Gold A$13.5 billion
    5. 5 Beef A$9.0 billion
  • 2014-15

    Top 5 Goods Imports

    1. 1 Passenger motor vehicles A$18.7 billion
    2. 2 Refined petroleum A$18.1 billion
    3. 3 Crude petroleum A$14.7 billion
    4. 4 Telecom equipment & parts A$11.0 billion
    5. 5 Computers A$8.0 billion
  • 2014-15

    Services Trade (selected countries)

    Total services exports
    A$69.0 billion
    • United States A$7.3 billion
    • United Kingdom A$5.3 billion
    • China A$10.0 billion
    • Singapore A$4.0 billion
    • New Zealand A$4.3 billion
    Total services imports
    A$80.4 billion
    • United States A$15.1 billion
    • United Kingdom A$7.5 billion
    • China A$2.4 billion
    • Singapore A$5.1 billion
    • New Zealand A$4.1 billion
  • 2014-15

    Services Trade

    Total services exports A$69.0 billion
    1. 1 Education-related travel services A$21.3 billion
    2. 2 Personal travel (excl education) services A$18.2 billion
    3. 3 Professional services A$5.0 billion
    Total services imports A$80.4 billion
    1. 1 Personal travel (excl education) services A$33.3 billion
    2. 2 Freight services A$9.9 billion
    3. 3 Passenger transport services A$6.3 billion
  • 2014-15

    International investment position (stocks) end Dec 2015

    Total foreign investment in Australia A$3,033 billion
    • United States A$876.4 billion
    • United Kingdom A$481.4 billion
    • Belgium A$247.1 billion
    • Japan A$201.6 billion
    • Singapore A$98.7 billion
    Total Australian investment abroad A$2,105 billion
    • United States A$653.9 billion
    • United Kingdom A$339.3 billion
    • Japan A$94.7 billion
    • New Zealand A$92.7 billion
    • Germany A$67.3 billion
  • 2014-15

    Economic/Trade Profile:

    • World population 7,248 million 2015
    • Australian population 24.01 million 2015
    • Gross domestic product A$1,621,404 million 2014-15
    • Real GDP growth rate 2.4% 2013-14 to 2014-15
    • Unemployment rate 6.2% 2014-15
    • Two-way trade
      to GDP ratio
      41.5% 2014-15
    • Two-way trade
      growth rate
      -0.9% 2013-14 to 2014-15

Australia’s openness to world trade

Chart: Australia's openness to world trade
The British Government purchases the entire Australian wool clip at a high fixed price for the duration of the war. The outbreak of the Korean War leads to a huge demand for Australian wool, in part, to make uniforms for soldiers. Australian exports surge, equal to 30% of GDP in 1950. Mining exports grow from just 18% of total exports in 1973 to over 40% by 2003.

Information

  • A country’s ‘openness’ to the world economy can be measured by calculating the ratio of trade (exports, imports or two-way trade) as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • Chart 1 shows that Australia’s two-way trade (exports plus imports) has never fallen below 20 per cent of GDP since Federation.
  • It also shows that the ratio of Australia’s trade to GDP is now over 41 per cent.
  • The overall trend of Australia’s rate of trade to GDP increasing since the 1950s is an indicator of Australia’s economy becoming more open to the world economy.
  • Australia’s openness in terms of two-way trade in goods and services rose rapidly after the Second World War, with a record level of 56.3 per cent in 1950-51 during the Korean War commodities boom.
  • After the Korean War boom Australian government policy was concentrated on promoting domestic industry capability. This led to the two-way trade ratio falling to between 25 and 30 per cent of GDP during the 1960s and 1970s.
  • The downward trend in the ratio was reversed during the 1980s with deregulation (including floating of the dollar in 1983) and the opening up of the Australian economy to the world.

Australia’s exports 1901 to 2016–17*

Australia's exports 1901 to 2014-15
Over the first half of the 20th century a small range of agricultural exports to a small number of British Empire markets contributes to the slow export growth. Australia’s exports grow strongly driven by resources, manufactures and services.

Information

  • Exports have always been important to Australia’s economy and the statistics show that, while they were steady (in value terms) for the first half of the 20th century, Australia’s export growth has been sustained in the second half of the century.
  • Export growth after the Second World War was strong compared to the first half of the century.
  • The value of Australia’s exports grew in value terms at an annual rate of 4.2 per cent per year between 1944-45 and 2016-17.
  • Export growth became more important to the Australian economy, especially from the 1980s onwards, as the Australian economy opened up to the world.

Australia’s merchandise exports: Share of top 5 commodities to total exports

Australia's exports 1901 to 2013-14.
1920 marks 50 years since Australia surpassed the UK to become the world‘s largest producer/supplier of wool. The lifting of the 1938 embargo on iron ore exports in 1960 sees a boom in iron ore exploration leading to iron ore becoming Australia‘s largest export in 2010.

Information

  • Australia’s export performance over the first half of the 20th century was concentrated on a much narrower base than today.
  • This means that for many years the bulk of Australia’s exports were one of a limited range of major agricultural commodities (wool, wheat) that were exported to a small number of British Empire (later Commonwealth) markets.
  • Two important broad changes can be seen after the Second World War:
    1. Australia’s export performance diversified, with resources, manufactures and services exports (first recorded in 1946-47) growing in importance while agricultural commodities declined.
    2. The share of total trade dominated by Australia’s top export commodities has become smaller, which means Australia is trading a broader range of commodities. This diversification means that Australia is less reliant on any one particular merchandise commodity.

Australia’s two-way goods trade to Asia, the UK and the US per cent share of total

Australia's two-way trade to Asia, the UK and the US per cent share of total
Australia and Japan sign the Australia-Japan Commerce Agreement in 1957, paving the way for increased trade between the two countries. Japan displaces the UK as Australia’s largest trading partner in 1971. Australia establishes diplomatic relations with China in 1973. By 1978 China is Australia’s 6th largest trading partner and its largest by 2007.

Information

  • As Australia’s export commodities diversified over the past 100 years, so did Australia’s trading partners.
  • Two important broad changes can be seen:
    1. Over the 20th century the region of Australia’s main two-way goods trading partner has shifted from Europe (the UK) to Asia (Japan and China).
    2. The share of Australia’s total goods trade with Asia has increased significantly since the 1960s and reached 70.3% in 2016-17.

Pre-Federation Article

Pre-Federation Trade

Aboriginal bark painting

From at least 1700 until 1907, fishermen sailed each year from Makassar on the island of Sulawesi (now Indonesia) to the Arnhem Land coast. Makasar fishermen traded with Aboriginal people for trepang (sea cucumber), which they boiled down, dried on their boats and traded with China where it is still used for food and medicine.

Australia map

Indigenous Australians conducted trade within Australia well before 1770, via routes that criss-crossed the country. These trade routes enabled meetings at particular locations of importance and ceremonial exchanges, as well as renewal and reinforcement of friendship rites. At these locations goods, objects or Dreaming songs were also exchanged.

Black and white photo of man standing on whale carcas with harpoon

Whaling commenced in Australia in 1791. The export of whale by-products such as whale oil became one of Australia’s first primary industries.

Sheep eating grass

The first merino sheep was introduced to Australia in 1797. Unlike earlier breeds, this Spanish variety was much better suited to the Australian environment and was a formidable wool producer. The first Australian-produced fleece was sold in England in 1807 and by the late 19th century, wool had become Australia’s major export.

Pile of gold nuggets

By the 1850s, Australia was producing almost 40 per cent of the world’s gold.

UK Flag - Union Jack

In colonial times, the United Kingdom was by far Australia’s most prominent trading partner. In the 1880s, the UK was the source of 70 per cent of Australia’s imports and the destination for up to 80 per cent of exports.

FederationPosterFirst

Prior to 1901, one of the main arguments in favour of Australian Federation was the elimination of customs duties (or tariffs) being applied on goods traded between the six Australian colonies. Not only did these customs duties make it more expensive and difficult to obtain goods, they also inconvenienced travellers as customs officials at borders searched passengers’ luggage. Free traders were among the strongest supporters of Federation.

Post-Federation Article

Australia’s trade since Federation

Introduction

Australia’s trade has always been a key component of the economy however the composition of Australia’s trade has changed significantly since Federation. This ‘pictorial’ article briefly illustrates some of the key aspects of Australia’s trade since 1901, examining the changing composition of Australia’s exports and imports in terms of commodities and regions, its importance to the Australian economy, as well as the impact on Australia’s trade balance and terms of trade.

Australia’s openness to world trade

An indicator of a country’s openness to the world economy can be measured by calculating the ratio of trade (exports, imports or two-way trade) as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). An increasing ratio represents an economy that is becoming more open to the world economy, while a decreasing ratio represents an economy that is becoming less open to the world economy.

Chart 1: Australia's two-way trade as a per cent of GDP

In 1901, Australia’s two-way merchandise trade1 accounted for 42.7 per cent of GDP ( refer to Chart 1). It averaged around 40 per cent of GDP up until the start of the First World War in 1914, then fell sharply during the war because of disruptions to Australia’s export markets and import sources. The ratio recovered rapidly reaching pre-war levels in the early 1920s (in part due to a wool boom). The ratio then trended down from the mid-1920s, falling to a low of 25.7 per cent in 1931-32 at the height of the Great Depression as protectionist measures were introduced. It remained fairly constant from the early 1930s until the end of the Second World War, averaging around 28 per cent of GDP. This indicates that Australia’s openness to the world economy, in terms of two-way trade, was in gradual decline from Federation up to the end of the Second World War.

Australia’s openness in terms of two-way trade in goods and services rose rapidly after the Second World War. Two-way trade averaged around 44 per cent of GDP between 1945-46 and 1954-55 (with a record level of 56.3 per cent in 1950-51 during the Korean War commodities boom).

After the Korean War boom Australian government policy was concentrated on promoting domestic industry capability. This led to the two-way trade ratio falling to between 25 and 30 per cent of GDP during the 1960s and 1970s, the lowest levels in the series history (with a record low of just 24.9 per cent in 1971-72).

This downward trend in the ratio was reversed during the 1980s with deregulation (including floating of the dollar in 1983) and the opening up of the Australian economy to the world. As the effects of these reforms flowed through the Australian economy the two-way trade ratio grew from around 32 per cent of GDP at the end of the 1980s to 40.9 per cent by the end of the 20th century. The ratio rose to 44.9 per cent in 2008-09 at the height of the resources boom but has since declined and stands at 41.0 per cent in 2014-15, just below the level recorded in 1901 at the time of Federation (42.7 per cent).

Chart 2: Australia's exports as a per cent of GDP

The same trends in terms of openness for both exports and imports can be observed (refer to Charts 2 & 3). A general decline is seen in both ratios from 1901 until the Second World War, with the imports ratio in particular affected by the Great Depression with the ratio falling to a record low of 7.4 per cent in 1931-32. During the Second World War the export ratio declined further than the import ratio.

After the Second World War both ratios (in terms of goods and services) rose rapidly to peak during the Korean War boom. After the Korean War boom both ratios declined as Australian government policy concentrated on promoting domestic industry. Since the deregulation of the Australian economy in the 1980s both ratios have trended upwards to around 20 per cent by 2014-15. For exports the ratio is slightly below the level recorded in 1901 at the time of Federation (23.0 per cent) but slightly above for imports (19.7 per cent).

Chart 3: Australia's imports as a per cent of GDP

In comparison, Chart 4 shows two-way trade in goods and services as a share of GDP for the United Kingdom and the United States. For the United Kingdom, as with Australia, the level of openness at the beginning of the 1900s is high (55.3 per cent) which indicates how important trade was to both these countries. The level of openness declines sharply after the First World War to a low during the Great Depression years in the 1930s. After the Korean War, the ratio remains fairly flat until the early 1970s when the United Kingdom joins the European Union. The rate then rises strongly and is around 3 per cent higher in 2015 than 1900.

The United States in contrast, had a relatively low openness index in 1900 (just 14.4 per cent) and this remained fairly flat up to start of the 1970s (excluding the two world wars). After the 1970s the level of openness has grown steadily to 28.1 per cent in 2015, below both Australia (41.0 per cent) and the United Kingdom (56.8 per cent). The level of openness for the United States over the past 110 years has been far less volatile than for Australia or the United Kingdom.

Chart 4: United Kingdom and United States two-way trade as a per cent of GDP

Australia’s exports overview 1901 to 2014-15

Australia’s export performance over the first half of the 20th century was concentrated on a much narrower base than today. A small range of major agricultural commodities were exported to a small number of British Empire markets and these made up the bulk of Australia’s exports. Export growth during the period was slow, with the importance of exports to the Australian economy declining over the period. Export growth was linked to the agriculture cycle, and suffered severe disruptions during both world wars along with a decline in exports during the Great Depression.

After the Second World War, Australia’s export performance diversified with resources, manufactures and services exports growing in importance while agricultural commodities declined. Export growth during the period was strong compared to the first half of the century. It became more important to the Australian economy, especially from the 1980s onwards, as the Australian economy opened up to the world. Australia’s export markets also shifted geographically from Europe (especially the United Kingdom) to Asia (especially Japan and China).

Over the period 1901 to 1944-45 (refer to Chart 5), Australia’s merchandise exports2, in 2013-14 price terms3, grew from $6.7 billion in 1901 to $11.0 billion in 1944-45 (peaking at $14.3 billion in 1936-37) representing an average annual growth of only 1.2 per cent.

Between 1901 and 1913 exports grew from $6.7 billion to $8.5 billion, in 2013-14 prices. Australia’s exports consisted mainly of agricultural products, which resulted in export performance varying greatly year to year, due to the agriculture cycle. Exports fell during the first year of the First World War before growing back to pre-war levels by 1916-17, but falling again in the last year of the war. Export growth recovered slowly during the 1920s, to reach around $11 billion by 1928-29. Exports fell to $8.6 billion in 1930-31 during the height of the Great Depression before recovering to $13.8 billion by 1939-40. With the start of the Second World War, exports again declined to a low of $8.8 billion in 1942-43 due to the interruptions to shipping and access to our export markets.

Chart 5: Australia's merchandise exports 1901 to 1944-45 (a)

The major exports between 1901 and 1944-45 were agricultural products such as Wool, Wheat and Butter. Gold was also important. Exports were heavily concentrated in these major products, with the top five exports in 1901 making up 66.3 per cent of the total, with Wool on its own making up over 30 per cent (refer to Chart 7). The importance of the top five exports remained high over this entire period, averaging around 61 per cent of the total.

Chart 6: Australia's goods & services exports 1945-46 to 2013-14 (a)

Since the Second World War (refer to Chart 6), Australia’s goods and services exports, in 2013-14 price terms, grew from $18.3 billion in 1945-46 to $311.9 billion in 2014-15, representing an average annual growth of 4.2 per cent, significantly higher than the first half of the 20th century.

Chart 7: Australia's merchandise exports share of top 5 export commodities to total exports

Export growth recovered quickly after the Second World War, with exports of goods and services more than doubling by 1950-51 to $45.8 billion (in 2013-14 prices). The Korean War boom (with a large spike in wool prices), as it was called, was short lived, with exports declining sharply again to $27.5 billion in 1951-52. Export growth during the 1950s to 1970s averaged 3.9 per cent per annum before accelerating to 4.5 per cent per annum on average from the 1980s as the Australian economy opened up to the world. Export growth has since slowed to 3.9 per cent per annum after 2004-05 as Australia experienced a significant increase in exports up to 2008-09 on the back of higher resources commodity prices (especially for iron ore and coal) followed by a flattening of export growth as commodity prices returned to historical levels.

Agricultural products still dominated exports during the 1950s and 1960s, with Wool, Wheat, Beef, Sugar and Butter being the major exports, even though agriculture as a share of Australia’s economy had been in decline since the end of the Second World War (refer to Chart 8). It was in the 1970s that the composition of Australia’s major exports started shifting towards resources. Exports of resources such as Coal, Iron ore, Natural gas and Gold became more important.

Chart 8: Australia's industry share of GDP

From the late 1980s exports of services also grew strongly, with Personal travel services (both education-related and other personal) and Business services becoming major exports. Short-term overseas visitor arrivals (tourism exports) to Australia increased from 40,000 movements in 1950, to one million by 1984 to 2.4 million by 1990 to nearly 7.5 million by 2015.

As Australia’s exports base diversified, the concentration of our merchandise exports accounted for by the top five export commodities declined over the period to a low of just around 30 per cent in the 1990s to mid-2000s (refer to Chart 7). However, since the start of the resources boom this trend has reversed, with the share of the top five merchandise exports increasing sharply to stand at 51.8 per cent in 2014-15, the highest level since the 1950s.

Australia’s top five merchandise export markets in 1901 accounted for 81.1 per cent of total exports. The share of the top five export markets over the period 1901 to 1944-45 ranged between 70 and 80 per cent – a much higher level than in the period after the Second World War (refer to Chart 9).

Chart 9: Australia's merchandise exports share of top 5 export markets to total exports

Reflecting political and social ties of the time, Australia’s largest merchandise export market was the United Kingdom for the period 1901 to 1944-45 (refer to Chart 9), excluding the year 1941-42. In that year, the United States was Australia’s most important market. The United Kingdom accounted for 50.7 per cent of total exports in 1901 rising to 62.0 per cent during the First World War. The United Kingdom as an export market remained over 50 per cent up to the start of the Second World War before declining to around one third of total exports in 1944-45.

Australia’s largest merchandise export market remained the United Kingdom up to 1965-66. Japan became the largest market in 1966-67, and remained so until the late 2000s when it was overtaken by China. Australia’s reliance on a small number of export markets declined over this period with the top five merchandise export markets accounting for around 70 per cent of exports in the late 1940s falling to around 50 per cent in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. However, from the start of the resources boom in the last half of the 2000s, the share has risen again with the top five markets now accounting for just over 65 per cent of Australia’s merchandise exports in 2014-15 (with China accounting for 32.0 per cent).

In terms of regions (refer to Regional charts – exports), Europe was the major market for Australia’s exports in 1901 accounting for over 70 per cent of total merchandise exports. Europe was the dominant region for exports up to the end-1950s (excluding a short period in the Second World War). From the 1960s Asia rapidly grew as a destination for Australian exports, while Europe declined, with exports to Asia in 2014-15 accounting for over 80 per cent of total merchandise exports.

Regional charts – exports

Australia's merchandise exports to Africa percent share of total
Australia's merchandise exports to Americas percent share of total
Australia's merchandise exports to Asia percent share of total
Australia's merchandise exports to Europe percent chare of total
Australia's merchandise exports to Oceania percent share of total

Australia’s imports overview 1901 to 2014-15

Australia’s import performance over the first half of the 20th century was concentrated on intermediate and capital goods. The major source for these imports was the United Kingdom, though the United States became more important, especially during the Second World War. Import growth during the period was moderate but with severe disruptions, as with exports, during both world wars along with a much more significant decline in imports during the Great Depression.

Australia’s import performance after the Second World War was strong compared to the first half of the century and became more important to the Australian economy especially from the 1980s onwards as the Australian economy opened up to the world. The major sources for Australia’s imports also shifted from the United Kingdom in the 1950s, to the United States and Japan in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, and then to China in the late 2000s.

Over the period 1901 to 1944-45 (refer to Chart 10), Australia’s merchandise imports4, in 2013-14 price terms, grew from $5.8 billion in 1901 to $14.3 billion in 1944-45, representing an average annual growth of 1.5 per cent. The major merchandise imports into Australia in 1901 were: Textiles, clothing & footwear, Metal manufactures, Iron & steel, Machinery, Timber and Sugar.

Chart 10: Australia's merchandise imports 1901 to 1944-45 (a)
Chart 11: Australia's imports 1945-46 to 2013-14 (a)

Merchandise imports grew between 1901 and 1913 from $5.8 billion to $8.5 billion in 2013-14 prices, before declining to a low of $5.4 billion in 1917-18 at the height of the German campaign against Allied merchant shipping during the First World War. Import growth recovered during the 1920s, to reach $12.2 billion by 1926-27. As with exports, imports collapsed during the Great Depression but at a far greater rate, falling to a record low of $3.9 billion in 1931-32 (just 7.4 per cent of GDP). Import growth slowly recovered during the late 1930s, before increasing strongly during the Second World War with imports growing to around $16 billion per year to support the Australian war effort.

Since the Second World War (refer to Chart 11), Australia’s goods and services imports, in 2013-14 price terms, grew from $11.9 billion in 1945-46 to $334.4 billion in 2014-15, representing an average annual growth of 4.4 per cent, significantly higher than the first half of the 20th century.

By the 1950s, the major imports still included Machinery, Textiles, clothing & footwear, Metal manufactures and Iron & steel, however Petroleum oils and Vehicles & parts had also become major imports.

By 2014-15, the major imports into Australia were: Petroleum oils, Passenger motor vehicles, Telecommunications equipment, and Computers. Imports of Freight and Passenger transport services were also important for all time periods. There has also been strong growth in Australians travelling abroad in the last ten years, with imports of Personal travel services (excluding education), becoming Australia’s single largest import item from 2008-09. Short-term resident departures (tourism imports) from Australia increased from 30,000 movements in 1950, to one million by 1978, to over three million by 2000 to nearly 9.5 million by 2015.

Australia’s top five merchandise import sources in 1901 accounted for 87.0 per cent of total imports (refer to Chart 12). The share of the top five import sources over the period 1901 to 1944-45 ranged between 75 and 90 per cent, a much higher level than after the Second World War.

Chart 12: Australia's merchandise imports share of top 5 import sources to total imports

Australia’s largest merchandise import source was the United Kingdom for the period 1901 to 1941-42. The United Kingdom accounted for around 60 per cent of total imports in 1901 and maintained that level to the First World War. The United Kingdom as an import source declined to around 40 per cent up to the Second World War. The United States became Australia’s most important import source in 1942-43, at the height of the Japanese military threat to Australia and maintained the top position through to 1944-45.

Since the Second World War, Australia’s reliance on a small number of import sources has declined, with the top five merchandise import sources accounting for over 80 per cent of imports in the late 1940s, falling to around 65 per cent in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and then falling to around 50 per cent by the end of the century. Unlike exports, there was only a small rebound in the share of total imports by the top five source countries in recent years.

Australia’s largest merchandise import source switched back to the United Kingdom after the Second World War and remained so until the late 1960s before the United States again became Australia’s largest import source. Japan became the largest source of imports between 1983-84 and 1986-87 before reverting back to the United States. China became Australia’s largest import source from the mid-2000s onwards.

In terms of regions (refer to Regional charts – imports), Europe was the major source for Australia’s imports in 1901 accounting for around 70 per cent of total merchandise imports. America’s share of imports rose rapidly during the First World War however Europe remained the dominant region for imports up to the mid-1960s (excluding a short period in the Second World War). From the 1970s Asia rapidly grew as a source for Australia’s imports, while Europe and the Americas declined. Asia continued to rise in importance during the 2000s, with Asia now accounting for nearly 59 per cent of total merchandise imports in 2014-15.

Regional charts – imports

Australia's merchandise imports from Africa percent share of total
Australia's merchandise imports from Americas percent share of total
Australia's merchandise imports from Asia percent share of total
Australia's merchandise imports from Europe percent chare of total
Australia's merchandise imports from Oceania percent share of total

Australia’s trade balance 1901 to 2014-15

With the changing composition of Australia’s trade since 1901, Australia’s trade balance (exports minus imports) has also fluctuated between trade surpluses (exports greater than imports) and trade deficits (imports greater than exports). Since 1901 Australia has averaged a trade deficit equivalent to -1.0 per cent of Australia’s GDP (refer to Chart 13).

Chart 13: Australia's trade balance as a per cent of GDP

On average, Australia recorded trade surpluses for the first five decades of the 20th century (except for the 1920s). From the 1950s to the end of the first decade of the 21st century every decade recorded a trade deficit. For the first five years of the second decade (2010-11 to 2014-15) Australia has so far recorded a trade surplus for 2010-11 only.

Australia’s terms of trade 1900-01 to 2014-15

The terms of trade is an index that shows a country's export prices relative to its import prices. A rise in the index implies an improvement in a country’s terms of trade, enabling it to purchase more imports from the same amount of exports. Conversely, a fall in the index implies deterioration in a country’s terms of trade, requiring it to export more to purchase the same amount of imports. Movements in the terms of trade are used in assessing the changing purchasing power of exports over imports, analysing real income, and evaluating the level of consumption that can be sustained in the domestic economy.

Chart 14 shows Australia’s terms of trade from 1900-01 to 2014-15. Australia’s terms of trade has recorded three large spikes as a result of commodity booms over this period due to large increases in export prices in the early 1920s, early 1950s and for the recent resource boom from 2003-04 to 2011-12.

The 1920s commodity boom was driven by an increase in wool prices (then Australia’s largest export commodity). The export prices of other agricultural goods and mineral prices did not rise in this period. The 1950s commodity boom (or the Korean War boom) was also brought on by a rise in wool prices. However, with this boom other agricultural prices and mineral prices also rose sharply. The present day boom was driven by rises in resources commodities prices (mainly iron ore and coal), with the terms of trade peaking in the September quarter 2011 (the highest level in 140 years)5.

Both the 1920s and the 1950s commodity booms were short-lived with the terms of trade falling sharply after a short period of time. However, the more recent resources boom has lasted several years, with commodity prices, though down from their recent peaks, still well above the prices recorded before the boom.

The terms of trade also shows three periods of sharp downward spikes: the first after the end of the First World War; the second during the Great Depression in the 1930s; and the third at the end of the Second World War.

Chart 14: Australia's terms of trade

Australia’s international investment – growing link with trade

Australia has always been a net importer of foreign capital. The domestic savings of a relatively small Australian population needed to be supplemented by savings from overseas. The ability to access capital from the world economy allowed Australia much greater investment capacity to develop its economy. This growth in Australia’s international investment, especially in terms of direct investment (largely investment in foreign affiliates)6, is increasingly integral to Australia’s trading relationship with the world.

Australia’s trade, as captured in balance of payments and merchandise statistics, does not cover trade provided by an Australian commercial presence abroad, or trade provided in Australia by a foreign-owned enterprise. For services in particular it is often necessary for a company to set up a commercial presence in the host country to provide the service (known as foreign affiliates’ trade).

A one-off study by the ABS in 2002-03 found that foreign affiliates’ trade was significant for Australia, with 48 per cent of the provision of Australian goods and services to the world coming from an Australian commercial presence abroad, valued at $142.3 billion (or outwards foreign affiliates’ trade) compared to direct exports of around $150 billion7. The ABS also conducted a one-off study of inwards foreign affiliates’ trade in 2000-01. It found that foreign-owned companies in the Australian economy (excluding the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector) accounted for around 21 per cent of total gross value added for these industries valued at $78.1 billion, compared to imports into Australia of around $155 billion for the same period8.

Though the ABS does not produce regular statistics on Australia’s foreign affiliates’ trade, data on international direct investment levels (or stocks) can be used as an indicator of this activity. Chart 15 shows the increasing importance of both the level of Australian direct investment abroad and foreign direct investment in Australia (as a proportion of GDP) since the 1950s.

The level of foreign direct investment as a ratio to GDP averaged around 13 per cent in the 1950s and 1960s before falling to under 10 per cent in the 1970s. Since the opening up of the Australian economy the ratio to GDP has steadily grown to stand at 48.0 per cent in 2014-15.

The level of Australian direct investment abroad however accounted for only an average of 1.3 per cent of GDP from the 1950s to the end of the 1970s. It was only with the deregulation of the Australian economy that Australian direct investment abroad grew, peaking at 38.1 per cent of GDP in 2006-07. Outward direct investment values have fallen in recent years as a result of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) with the ratio falling to 30.5 per cent by 2011-12 before recovering to 38.2 per cent in 2014-15, the first time they have exceeded the pre GFC peak. Outward investment has been impacted by the GFC more than inwards investment due to the bulk of Australian direct investment abroad being invested in the North American and European regions (economies which were heavily impacted by the GFC).

Chart 15: Australia's direct investment level (or stock) as a per cent of GDP

Conclusion

Australia’s trade has always been a key component of the economy. This article is part of a project to make available to the public some of the extensive historical trade data that the DFAT Economic Diplomacy, Trade Advocacy and Statistics Section (EDS) stores in its statistical library. Much of the data is stored in the form of paper publications and is inaccessible for most users of trade data. To help address this issue, EDS is releasing two time series spread sheets that have been compiled from these historical trade publications in conjunction with this article.

The first time series spread sheet, Australia’s trade and economic indicators (see Historical Data tab on the timeline), provides time series data from 1901 to 2014-15 for a selection of Australian economic and trade indicators, including:

  • Australia’s population, short-term visitor arrivals and resident departures
  • Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the terms of trade and the unemployment rate;
  • Australian merchandise trade (total exports, imports and balance of trade);
  • Australia’s trade in goods and services;
  • Australia’s international investment position; and
  • Ratio of Australia’s trade and investment to GDP.

The second time series spread sheet, Australia’s direction of merchandise trade (see Historical Data tab on the timeline), provides time series data for around 60 of Australia’s major merchandise trading partners back to 1901 (and for some series back further).

Author:
Frank Bingham
Statistics Section
Office of Economic Analysis
Investment and Economic Division
statssection@dfat.gov.au
Published:
June 2016 (Updated with 2014-15 data)

Annex - Dates and chart sources

Important dates in history
1899 to 1902Boer War
1914 to 1918World War 1 (WW1)
1930 to 1932Great Depression
1939 to 1945World War 2 (WW2)
1950 to 1953Korean War
1950s & 1960sPost war boom
1980sDeregulation of the Australian economy
2003-04 to presentResources commodity boom
2007 to 2009Global financial crisis (GFC)
Chart sources
Charts 1, 2, 3ABS Overseas trade – various editions
DFAT STARS database based on ABS catalogue 5368.0
ABS catalogue 5302.0
ABS National Accounts – various issues.
Chart 4United States: BEA & Historical Statistics of the United States,
Colony Times to 1970 – US Department of Commerce – Bureau of Census
United Kingdom: Bank of England – Three centuries of statistics and
UK Office of National Statistics Latest years: OECD main economic indicators
Charts 5, 9, 10ABS Overseas trade – various editions
DFAT STARS database based on ABS catalogue 5368.0
ABS catalogues 5302.0 & 5363.0.
Charts 6, 8, 11, ABS Overseas trade – various editions
DFAT STARS database based on ABS catalogue 5368.0.
Chart 7N.G. Butlin Australian National Accounts 1788 to 1983
ABS Australian National Accounts 1948-49 to 1960-61
ABS catalogue 5204.0 2011-12
Reserve Bank of Australia – Australian Economic Statistics 1949-50 to 1996 97 Occasional Paper No. 8
DFAT estimate – 1939-40 to 1948-49
Chart 12ABS Overseas trade – various editions
DFAT STARS database based on ABS catalogue 5368.0
ABS catalogues 5302.0 & 5363.0.
Chart 13Christian Gillitzer and Jonathan Kearns (years 1900-01 to 1948-49)
ABS catalogues 5204.0 & 5206.0.
Chart 14ABS catalogue 5302.0
ABS catalogue 5363.0, 1996-97
Reserve Bank of Australia – Australian Economic Statistics 1949-50 to 1996 97 Occasional Paper No. 8
Regional export and import chartsABS Overseas trade – various editions
DFAT STARS database based on ABS catalogue 5368.0
  1. Data on Australia’s trade in services is only available from 1945-46 onwards.
  2. Data on Australia’s trade in services is only available from 1945-46 onwards.
  3. Trade data has been converted to 2012-13 prices based on the Reserve Bank of Australia Inflation calculator. These series do not represent trade volumes but are useful to compare trade values over a long time period without the impact of inflation.
  4. Data on Australia’s trade in services is only available from 1945-46 onwards.
  5. ANU Discussion paper No 605 – Commodity Price Shocks and the Australian Economy since Federation – Sambit Bhattacharyya and Jeffrey G. Williamson, April 2009.
  6. Please note, in ABS international investment statistics, direct investment is determined when the investor owns 10 per cent or more of the equity stock in the enterprise. For foreign affiliates trade statistics, an affiliate is defined when the investor owns 50 per cent or more of the equity stock in the enterprise.
  7. ABS catalogue 5495.0, Australia’s Outwards Foreign Affiliates Trade, 2002-03 and DFAT’s Trade in Services, Australia, 2003-04 – feature article Australia’s Outwards Foreign Affiliates Trade, 2002-03.
  8. ABS catalogue 5494.0, Economic Activity of Foreign owned Businesses in 2000-01.

Trade Glossary

Based on the Dictionary of Trade Policy Terms by Walter Goode and the WTO Trade Glossary unless otherwise specified.

Customs duty: Import or export tariffs, levied at the border.

Customs Territory: Any territory with a tariff or other regulations of commerce of its own and which governs its trade with other territories.

Customs Union: An area consisting of two or more individual economies or customs territories which remove all tariffs and sometimes broader trade impediments between them and harmonize external tariffs.

Duty: A levy or tax charged by governments within their jurisdiction on production, transactions and, less frequently, the ownership of an asset.

Embargo: An official ban on trade or other commercial activity with a particular country (Oxford Dictionaries).

Export: A good or a service sold by residents of one country to residents of another.

Floating exchange rate: An exchange rate regime where a currency is set by the foreign-exchange market through supply and demand for that particular currency relative to other currencies.

Free Trade Agreement: A treaty between two or more countries designed to reduce or eliminate certain barriers to trade and investment, and to facilitate stronger trade and commercial ties between participating countries (DFAT website).

Import: A good or a service bought by residents of one country from residents of another.

Import quota: Restrictions or ceilings imposed by an importing country on the value or volume of certain products that may be bought from abroad.

Most Favoured Nation Principle: The principle of treating one’s trading partners equally. That is, not discriminating between one’s trading partners.

Preferential treatment: A favour(s) extended to some trading partners, usually in the form of lower tariffs.

Protectionist measures: The shielding of domestic producers and their products from the competition of the international market through tariff and non-tariff measures.

Recession: A period of temporary economic decline during which trade and industrial activity are reduced, generally identified by a fall in Gross Domestic Product in two successive quarters (InvestorWords)

Subsidy: Financial or in-kind assistance by governments to producers or exporters.

Tariff: A duty or tax levied at the border on goods going from one customs territory (usually a country) to another.

Terms-of-trade: Australia s terms of trade is calculated as the ratio of export prices to import prices. If this index increases it implies that Australia is receiving relatively more for its exports; if it decreases then Australia is receiving relatively less. An increase in export prices relative to import prices implies that Australia is better off; thus an increase in the terms of trade is sometimes referred to as a favourable movement in the terms of trade. (Australian Parliament House).

Trade Through Time Historical Data

DFAT has created a range of time series products to complement it’s statistical trade publications. These products include:

Historical trade and economic data from 1901 (some series back to 1826)

Download the explanatory notes

DFAT adjustments to ABS official trade data

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) makes a number of adjustments to published Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) official monthly merchandise trade data to produce the most accurate dataset possible on Australia’s merchandise trade data on a calendar year and financial year basis. The following document outlines these adjustments. Users are advised to read this document carefully before using the trade time series data. The spreadsheet (Appendix A) lists those countries which are reporting actual export/import totals. Users are strongly advised to reference this spreadsheet in interpreting the time series data especially the country and commodity pivot tables.

Direction of goods & services trade

Country and commodity pivot tables

Sources

The following are a selection of sources for Australia’s Trade through Time.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2000). 1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2000. Available: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/
94713ad445ff1425ca25682000192af2/3852d05cd2263db5ca2569de0026c588!OpenDocument
. Last accessed 17 September 2014.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2001). 1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2001. Available: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Previousproducts/
1301.0Feature%20Article532001?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=1301.0&issue=2001&num=&view=
. Last accessed 16 September 2014.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2003). The wool industry - looking back and forward. Available: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Previousproducts/1301.0Feature%20Article172003?
opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=1301.0&issue=2003&num=&view= http://www.treasury.gov.au/PublicationsAndMedia/
. Last accessed 17 September 2014.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2007). 5368.0 - International Trade in Goods and Services, Australia, Oct 2007 . Available: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/0/618AFF5416C64078CA2573E9001016FE?OpenDocument. Last accessed 16 September 2014.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). 4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, Mar 2011 . Available: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features10Mar+2011. Last accessed 16 September 2014

Australian Embassy, China. (2012). Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Australia-China Diplomatic Relations. Available: http://www.china.embassy.gov.au/bjng/20120223anniversary.html. Last accessed 17 September 2014.

Brian Pinkstone (1992). Global connections : a history of exports and the Australian economy . Canberra: AGPS Press

Centre for International Economics. (2009). Benefits of trade and trade liberalisation. Available: https://dfat.gov.au/about-us/publications/Documents/quantifying-the-benefits-of-services-trade-liberalisation.pdf. Last accessed 21 March 2016.

British Broadcasting Corporation. (2012). Timeline: World Trade Organization. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/country_profiles/2430089.stm. Last accessed 17 September 2014.

Department of Agriculture. (2002). The Australian Sugar Industry – The Basics. Available: http://www.agriculture.gov.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/ag-food/crops/sugar/report/b.doc. Last accessed 21 March 2016.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. (2014). 222 Agreement On Commerce Between The Commonwealth Of Australia And Japan: Published Letters And Agreed Minutes. Available: http://dfat.gov.au/about-us/publications/historical-documents/Pages/volume-19/222-agreement-on-commerce-between-the-commonwealth-of-australia-and-japan-published-letters-and-agreed-minutes.aspx. Last accessed 21 March 2016.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. (2014). ANZCERTA – its genesis and the present. Available: https://www.dfat.gov.au/fta/anzcerta/anzcerta_history.html. Last accessed 17 September 2014.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. (2014). Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Available: https://www.dfat.gov.au/apec/. Last accessed 17 September 2014.

Dr David Gruen and Colin Clark. (2009). What have we learnt? The Great Depression in Australia from the perspective of today. Available: http://archive.treasury.gov.au/documents/1689/HTML/docshell.asp?URL=03_Colin_Clark_speech.htm. Last accessed 16 September 2014.

European Commission. (2014). South Korea. Available: http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/south-korea/. Last accessed 17 September 2014

European Commission. (2014). The euro. Available: http://ec.europa.eu/economy_finance/euro/index_en.htm. Last accessed 17 September 2014.

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