Australia recorded a seasonally-adjusted trade deficit of $1.6 billion in March 2012, the third consecutive monthly deficit, according to data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The $833 million increase on the February trade deficit was slightly above market expectations, reflecting mainly a 5 per cent rise in goods and services imports. This more than offset a 2 per cent increase in goods and services exports in March.
Exports of rural goods rose 8 per cent, or $199 million, while shipments of manufactured goods were also up, by 5 per cent, or $167 million. Exports of metals - excluding gold - increased 17 per cent, or $141 million. Machinery exports rose 2 per cent.
Services exports rose 4 per cent, or $156 million, with travel services up 6 per cent.
Despite the deficit, Trade Minister Craig Emerson welcomed the strong underlying trend in exports.
"Exporters across a range of industries are responding to robust demand for Australian goods and services, particularly from Asia," Dr Emerson said.
"Engaging with our trading partners in the region while seeking investment opportunities in this, the Asian Century, is central to growth in this country," he said.
Merchandise exports to East Asia rose 12 per cent, to nearly $15 billion, from February to March. Exports to China rose 7 per cent, and to Japan by 18 per cent. The increase to Korea was 4 per cent, and to ASEAN, 28 per cent.
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