AAP FactCheck

Restoring confidence in public statements by independently testing and verifying the facts

Did exports exceed imports each month in 2018 for the first time since 1973?

By Brian Kelly and Louise Evans

The Statement

“Last year (2018) was the first year since 1973 when we exported more than we imported as a nation, each and every month of the year.”

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham. April 29, 2019.

The Analysis

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says the coalition government’s record trade surplus is helping to fuel economic growth. [1]

AAP FactCheck examined the claim by Senator Birmingham that exports exceeded imports each month in 2018 and it was the first time this had occurred since 1973.

Simon Birmingham has been a Liberal Party Senator for South Australia since May 2007. He was appointed Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment in August 2018 when Scott Morrison became prime minister.

Senator Birmingham was questioned on ABC TV News Breakfast whether he was concerned Senate candidate Clive Palmer was hurting trade relations with China with his anti-Sino sentiments.

Senator Birmingham said: "You've got pretty much all of the parties on the fringes, the minor parties, and even the Labor party now, arguing against aspects of our trade policy. What's remarkable about them doing so is that Australia has a record trade surplus.” [1]

A trade surplus occurs when exports exceed imports. A trade surplus can create employment and economic growth, but may also trigger higher prices and interest rates and currency fluctuations. [2]

According to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade data, Australia recorded a trade surplus every month during 2018. Australia's trade balance - the difference between exports and imports - was $815 million after the first quarter of 2018, $1.71 billion after the second, $2.36 billion after the third and $4.3 billion after the fourth. [3]

Based on this data AAP FactCheck found Senator’s Birmingham’s claim that Australia’s exports exceeded imports in every month of 2018 to be correct.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows the last calendar year before 2018 when trade surpluses rose every month was 1972, not 1973, as the senator claimed. There was a trade surplus in every month of 1973 except December (-$6 million). [4]

The US publisher Maritime Executive, which reports on shipping business news, also reported the year as 1972 not 1973. [5]

A February 2019 Senator Birmingham press release also states the year was 1972.

The same release said Australia recorded “12 monthly trade surpluses in 2018, and 22 in the last 24 months”. [6]

AAP FactCheck concluded this error was minor, made by Senator Birmingham on live television when he said 1973 instead of 1972.

The Verdict

  • Mostly True - Mostly accurate, but there is a minor error or problem.

The References

1. 'Interview with Trade Minister Simon Birmingham'. ABC TV Breakfast. April 29, 2019: https://twitter.com/BreakfastNews/status/1122615098973908992

2. 'Trade surplus', by Will Kenton. Investopedia. July 18, 2018: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/trade-surplus.asp

3. 'Australia's trade balance'. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Trade balance, seasonally-adjusted and as a trend, A$ million table). February 2019: https://dfat.gov.au/trade/resources/trade-statistics/Pages/australias-trade-balance.aspx

4. 'International Trade in Goods and Services, Feb 2019'. Australian Bureau of Statistics (Table 1, Goods and Services, “Balance on goods and services, seasonally adjusted (Series ID A2718585A) in work tab “Data1”, Column B). April 3, 2019: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/5368.0Feb%202019?OpenDocument

5. ‘Australia Reaches Record Trade Surplus in 2018’. The Maritime Executive. February 2019: https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/australia-reaches-record-trade-surplus-in-2018

6. 'Australia records bumper trade surplus in 2018'. Senator Simon Birmingham. February 5, 2019: https://www.senatorbirmingham.com.au/australia-records-bumper-trade-surplus-in-2018/

  • First published April 29, 2019 17:30 AEST