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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

UK - our traditional trade partner

Engineering is not usually one of the things that I hunt out when I am on an overseas holiday, but this time as part of our visit to England and Wales, we went to Bristol.  I knew about Kingdom Isambard Brunel but seeing both the S.S.Great Britain and the Clifton Suspension bridge which he designed were real highlights.

For those who have not visited the S.S.Great Britain, it is in the dry dock where it was originally built and you can walk right around the hull.  It is protected with a glass ceiling which keeps the ship at the correct humidity and which will ensure its survival.  The prow of the ship is above the glass ceiling.  Photo: Graeme Siddle 20 June 2011.

When it was completed in 1845, the S.S. Great Britain was a revolutionary vessel—the first ship to combine an iron hull with screw propulsion, and at 322 ft (98 m) in length and with a 3,400-ton displacement, more than 100 ft (30 m) longer and 1,000 tons larger than any ship previously built. It was fitted to accommodate a total of 360 passengers, along with 1,200 tons of cargo and 1,200 tons of coal for fuel.   Like most steamships of the era, Great Britain was provided with secondary sail power.

And why you might ask is this significant?   Because of its revolutionary nature, it changed sea transport irrevocably and therefore international trade.    The ship carried passengers and cargo from the United Kingdom to Australia over the period 1851-1881.   It certainly carried exports of Australian gold back to England.

Sea transport is still playing an important role in our international trade with to the UK.   Some of the facts about that trade are interesting.  For example over the 2009-2010 period our exports fell 16.1% - compare my post on Germany. However in the year ending December 2010 the UK was still our sixth most important trading partner (exports plus imports), after Australia, China, Japan and Korea.   This is remarkable considering the move New Zealand has made towards markets in Asia in response to the need to move away from dependence on the UK when they entered the Common market (European Community).

The balance of trade is  in New Zealand's favour with a NZ$573 billion difference in 2010.  The emphasis though remains on primary products such as sheep meat, wool, aluminium and apples.   Like Germany there was a decrease in apple exports of 31% in 2009-2010.   Honey is also in the top 10 New Zealand products exported to the UK - in fact the UK is our top destination for honey.  And as with Germany our main import from the UK is motor vehicles.

Detailed study reveals some surprises - an increase of exports of laboratory heating equipment which was in the top 20 of exported products to the UK.   And on the import side we are still heavily dependent  for imports of books, newspapers and periodicals which are in the top five imports!

All of which information is a world away from a 170 year old ship in Bristol, but not from the technology that it represented and which paved the way for international trade developments on a large scale.

Global New Zealand: international trade, investment and travel profile.  Statistics New Zealand, 2010

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