The gap narrowed to NZ$4.44 billion ($3.1 billion) in the 12 months ended July 31 from NZ$4.47 billion in the year through May, Statistics New Zealand said in Wellington today.
New Zealand's economy was probably in a recession in the first half of 2008, curbing consumer demand for imported computers and cars. Global oil prices are starting to decline from record-highs, adding to signs that the trade deficit will narrow further.
New Zealand's dollar fell to 70.38 U.S. cents at 10:53 a.m. in Wellington trading from 70.43 cents before the report.
Imports rose 22 percent to NZ$4.2 billion in July from a year earlier, the largest increase since May 2006. The gain exceeded the 16 percent forecast by economists.
Fuel imports led the increase, rising 58 percent, the statistics agency said. The largest contributor to the gain was diesel. The next largest increase was from mechanical equipment including machinery used in gas fields and irrigation projects. Electrical machinery imports were buoyed by purchases of television digital decoders, the agency said.
Exports rose 30 percent in July from a year earlier to NZ$3.42 billion. The increase matched the median forecast in the economists' survey.
Sales of milk powder, butter and cheese, which make up almost one-fifth of overseas shipments, increased 51 percent from a year earlier.
Exports of crude oil gained to NZ$316 million from NZ$50 million a year earlier. Oil is now New Zealand's third-largest export after dairy and meat following the commencement of production at the Tui field in July.
Economists monitor the rolling, 12-month trade balance because of volatility in the month-on-month figures, which aren't seasonally adjusted. In July, there was a NZ$781 million trade deficit compared with an NZ$808 million gap a year earlier. Economists expected a NZ$538 million deficit.