Baby steps on road to China

ALAN WOOD
Last updated 05:00 25/08/2014

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A group of six New Zealand infant formula manufacturers including Synlait Milk are still battling to register with Chinese authorities in order to be able to start valuable exports to China.

The Ministry of Primary Industries and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade are working directly with their Chinese counterparts to complete the registration process for the remaining manufacturers "as soon as possible".

New Zealand already has a group of eight manufacturers of retail ready infant formula currently registered by Chinese authorities to export infant formula to China.

Those that have already been given the go-ahead include Nutricia (owned by French food giant Danone), Westland Milk Products, Fonterra, Sutton Group, Dairy Goat Co-operative and GMP Dairy.

They were part of an initial group that gained registration from the Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People's Republic of China (CNCA) in early May under tough new rules.

Prior to that Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said China "tightening" began even before Fonterra's whey protein botulism scare last year.

A Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) spokesman said last week there had been three other Auckland-based infant formula makers registered in July including New Zealand New Milk, New Image International and Health Pak.

The Government continued to work with the remaining six manufacturers, including Synlait, on their registration process and verification audits (now complete). MPI has not named the other five for confidentiality reasons.

Alpha Laboratories, New Zealand Food Packing and Blue River Dairy are potentially among those five, one commentator said.

New Zealand Infant Formula Exporters Association chairman Michael Barnett said an uneven market had resulted for some infant milk exporters because of the changes by the Chinese.

For example, because of the lower number of manufacturers, those factory owners had been able to "pick and choose" clients they would do package for, distorting the market. The registration process for manufacturers had taken "longer than what it should have", Barnett said.

Dunsandel-based Synlait Milk has also just finished a canning plant for infant-formula, canned on behalf of several customers.

Synlait managing director John Penno on Wednesday said given the work that had already been done in preparation for the Chinese market, Synlait was hoping to get exports under way soon.

The canning line had been audited by MPI and it was just waiting the paperwork, and parallel paperwork for accreditation to China was well under way.

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An MPI spokesperson said the new Chinese rules introduced this year signalled China's desire for greater accountability for imported infant formula from all countries. New Zealand's relationship with China was now in "great shape".

Wellington-based dairy exporter Chris Claridge, of Carrickmore Nutrition, said dealing with the Chinese provided challenges, but hard work to break into the export market with its infant formula and milk powder was paying off. "It just takes time, it's a bureaucratic process . . . it's really just part of doing business with China, you've just got to make sure you tick all the boxes," he said.

In the last 30 months Claridge had flown 15 times to China cities to help break Carrickmore into that market with the help of a large distributor.

- The Press

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