Kiwis dumped for Chinese toys
It was a match made in godzone: miniature toy kiwis made out of possum fur sold in Department of Conservation stores the length and breadth of the country.
But the good-news story about environmentally friendly made-in-New Zealand products has died in the double trap of free trade agreements and Government efficiency.
DOC officials have axed products from a New Zealand-owned and operated souvenir manufacturer after"centralising" its purchasing systems and taking a stance to "not favour" New Zealand products over foreign-made products.
"DOC does not favour New Zealand-made products over those made in other countries," said DOC commercial channel manager Jake Downing.
"This procurement policy, like that of other government departments, reflects the principle of open and effective competition between domestic and international suppliers and also meets New Zealand's obligations under international treaties and trade agreements."
For many years Rotorua-based Rozcraft has produced popular tourist items for DOC visitor shops but company owner Roz Hunt says she was recently told her products were no longer required after DOC centralised its visitor centre purchasing decisions out of Wellington.
Downing said DOC had reviewed suppliers to its 23 visitor centres last year as a way of "better providing for customers and improving cost efficiencies".
Previously, management at the centres around the country could buy products on an "ad hoc basis".
About 40 suppliers were selected, with Downing saying Rozcraft missed out "because of the limited range in comparison to other proposals". Rozcraft's website lists more than 115 items in its catalogue.
A disappointed Hunt told the Sunday Star-Times: "If you go into the DOC stores now, there is very little New Zealand made . . . a lot of it is overseas [produced].
"It is a big blow for us. We are part of the Buy New Zealand Made campaign and I find it really difficult."
DoC said not all the products it sells are from Asia and "many of our visitor centres stock local products
from suppliers within their communities," it said in a statement.
The irony is that Rozcraft's materials include fur from possums killed as part of DOC's campaign to control the pest.
Hunt said the decision to replace her possum-fur products with some faux-fur items made in Asia was both bad for her business and for native birds. DoC said it still sells some products made from possum fur.
Rozcraft's labels include the message: "This product was made right here in NZ. A gift from New Zealand."
Many souvenir products - including kiwis, other soft toys and cloaks - distributed by rival companies have labels which simply state: "Designed in New Zealand."
Their country of manufacturing origin is either not stated or simply listed as "Asia".
DOC's decision had been a further blow for Rozcraft after it had earlier been hit by a drop in tourist spending following the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes. That had included a freeze on replacing departing staff.
Downing said the decision was "communicated" to Rozcraft last May but Hunt is adamant she learned of her axing only after a manager of a DOC store told her sales agent shortly before Christmas that their shop was not allowed to stock Rozcraft product.
DOC's policy to "not favour" New Zealand-made products over foreign goods was slammed by Green Party co-leader Russel Norman as "lacking in integrity and short-sighted".
Norman - who alerted the Star-Times to Rozcraft's story - last night said DOC had an obligation to ensure it stocked products of local integrity in its stores.
"DOC shops sell the story of New Zealand . . . clean and green New Zealand.
"But if tourists pick a product up and it says it is polyester made in China, where is the integrity in that?"
Norman said DOC's approach also highlighted how foreign trade deals constrained support for the domestic industry.
"New Zealand's Government says, 'How can we bend over backwards . . . we will discriminate against our own providers just to prove how true to the free trade regime we are."
The following is a statement provided by the Department of Conservation after this article was published:
"DOC has not replaced NZ-made products with overseas ones. We have not brought on any new product suppliers or overseas suppliers to our visitor centre network. In fact all of our suppliers are Kiwi businesses that employ Kiwis, with the exception of one supplier in Auckland which supplies children's science kits and nature-based toys (based in Australia)."
"The majority of the items we stock are made right here in New Zealand."
"Possum fur is a component in a variety of other products currently sold in visitor centres (scarves, gloves, hats, and also locally sourced possum skins)."
Sunday Star Times