New Zealand imports fell to the lowest since mid-2021 in the first quarter as a weak economy stems demand from consumers and businesses.

Imports slowed to NZ$17.9 billion ($11 billion) in the three months through March, Statistics New Zealand said Wednesday in Wellington. That’s the weakest since the three months ended July 2021 and down from a peak exceeding NZ$25 billion in late 2022.

Slowing demand for imports is a symptom of a sluggish economy, as both households and companies feel the weight of high interest rates. Gross domestic product contracted in the second half of 2023 — pushing the nation into a double-dip recession — and a recent business opinion survey highlighted the risk of a hard landing in 2024.

The Reserve Bank kept the Official Cash Rate at 5.5% this month, and said it needs to keep policy restrictive for a sustained period to return inflation to its 1-3% target band. Consumer prices rose 4% in the year through March.

Today’s report shows across-the-board declines in most imports with vehicles dropping 18% from the year-earlier quarter, machinery declining 12% and fuel falling 29%.

Capital goods imports dived 25%, reflecting a reluctance to invest as business confidence slumped.

Imports in March plunged 25% from a year earlier, although the prior period included purchase of a jetliner and unusually high fuel shipments.

Imports in the year ended March 31 dropped 11% from a year earlier, outpacing a 4.2% drop in the value of exports. The annual trade deficit narrowed to NZ$9.87 billion, the smallest since May 2022.