China customs 'issue' keeps NZ meat off shelves

SIMON DAY AND HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 05:00 19/05/2013

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Chinese supermarkets are beginning to run out of New Zealand beef and lamb as Kiwi meat remains stuck at ports around China.

Officials say they are working "around the clock" to resolve the issue but the Government is giving no timetable for when the stalled shipments will be cleared.

It emerged on Friday that all meat exports to China have been blocked from entering the country, possibly since the end of April.

The Government was told of the problem on Tuesday, but made no public statement until yesterday. On Friday it was left up to the Meat Industry Association to insist that there was no food safety issue.

Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye said yesterday that the issue was being taken seriously.

"MPI [the Ministry of Primary Industries] and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade [Mfat] are working around the clock to provide technical information, documentation and assurance from New Zealand, so Chinese officials can proceed with clearance."

The issue was apparently caused by a change of name on export certification, caused by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry being rolled into MPI, which also has responsibility for fisheries and food safety.

Fairfax reporter Simon Day, who is in China, said yesterday that supermarkets were beginning to run out of New Zealand product.

In a multi-storeyed Carrefour supermarket in Shanghai's Changning district, an area popular with the city's foreign residents, Kiwi lamb was not in stock.

According to a shop assistant working in the meat section, New Zealand lamb was usually available and popular. But recently it had become unavailable.

Australian and Argentinian beef was available, and clearly promoted. Only Mongolian and Chinese sheepmeat was available.

China was the largest buyer of New Zealand's sheepmeat by both volume and value in the first quarter of the year.

The stop at the border could mean thousands of tonnes of New Zealand sheepmeat will either be stuck at port or on the water en route to China. Every Kiwi meat company exporting to China is believed to have been affected.

A top meat-industry source said certification was being used by Chinese authorities as an excuse to protect local pork and poultry industries, noting that China had continued to allow imports of both dairy products and beef hides.

Meat Industry Association chief executive Tim Ritchie said the issue could cause long-term damage to the industry.

DEAL WITH ‘OTHER CHINA' ON BRINK OF BEING SIGNED

New Zealand is poised to sign its first free-trade agreement in more than three years, with an announcement of a deal with Taiwan expected in the coming months.

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Sources say negotiations have been progressing smoothly, and the most complicated issues, including Taiwan's complicated relationship with mainland China, are already largely resolved.

Assuming it is completed, it would be the first deal concluded since a closer economic partnership was announced with Hong Kong in March 2010.

While New Zealand does not officially recognise Taiwan as a country, it is our 12th-largest trading partner, having spent years in the top 10.

The island nation of 23 million people imported more than $800m of products from New Zealand in the year to June 2012, and was the source of more than 18,000 tourists.

The deal could be worth "tens of millions", a source estimated, with the biggest winners likely to be producers of dairy products, meat, kiwifruit and, in particular, apples, where a drop in tariff, the source said, could be "transformational".

Despite lengthy trade relations, exporters to Taiwan often face tariffs of around 20 per cent.

Factors said to have complicated the passing of the deal are both New Zealand's relations with China, where trade has soared since a free-trade agreement was reached, and Taiwan's own trade negotiations with mainland China.

Trade Minister Tim Groser declined to comment.

- Sunday Star Times

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