WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) _ Despite softening world markets, New Zealand's export trade grew steadily through September, giving the country its biggest annual merchandise trade surplus in seven years, official figures showed Friday.

The $351 million surplus for the 12 months to Sept. 30, 2001, was a massive turnaround from the $1.3 billion deficit posted for the previous year.

Most economists expect the country's Reserve Bank to trim the prime interest rate to 4.75 percent from 5.25 percent next week, despite the solid export and retail sales results.