Chinese authorities have given clearance for importers to collect hundreds of containers of frozen New Zealand beef and sheep meat that has been stranded in ports for weeks.
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said this afternoon that he had been told by the New Zealand embassy in Beijing that the clearance had been allowed.
It was now up to agents and importers to collect the meat, but he expected containers to be moving soon.
Guy said this morning that it was unclear when the meat would be moving, with all of the required information in the hands of the Chinese.
He said last Thursday that new export certificates were being flown to China by Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) officials, and he was optimistic that meat would be moving by the end of last week.
He said this morning that 245 certifications under the name of the old New Zealand Food Safety Authority had been sent to China, but the meat was still not moving.
"At the end of the day, we're dealing with Chinese officials," Guy told reporters in Parliament today.
"This was an error by MPI using the wrong form, so the error has been noticed by the Chinese. Of course we're rectifying that and reverting to the old form, so now we wait for the Chinese officials to release those containers."
He was "optimistic" containers would be moving "very soon", and he expected some to be cleared by the end of this week.
"We've done everything that was asked of us, which was working on the authorised certification, so now it's sitting with [Chinese certification body] AQSIQ."
He said the Government did not have figures on how much meat was involved, with even the meat industry uncertain, because some chilled meat has been allowed to clear customs.
The MPI director-general was in talks with the meat industry about compensation, Guy said, and he was not involved.
Pipfruit New Zealand chief executive Alan Pollard has said that if the meat industry was to get compensation, then his group should too after apples were blocked from entering Russia in late March because of the same issue.
Guy said another 1300 export certificates were sent to China last night for the rest of the blocked meat.
The Government has said MPI officials did not make it clear to Guy how serious the situation was early on, with some sources claiming that information was kept from him.
Guy said he was still getting information on what was going on.
"It's been frustrating because I didn't get enough visibility on this particular issue early enough. MPI officials have apologised to me," he said.
"This has been an interesting exercise. I get new bits of information almost every couple of hours. Every day there's a new bit of information."
MPI "by and large" did a good job, Guy said, despite a major error in what was the department's "bread and butter" job.
He maintained confidence in MPI director-general Wayne McNee, who will soon leave to take up a role in the private sector.
"Wayne McNee has kept me well in the loop on this. Mr McNee's disappointed in his officials, as I am," he said.
Labour leader David Shearer said the situation raised questions about whether Guy should keep the portfolio.
"Nathan Guy has been sitting on his hands. He is blaming his officials. You've got to ask whether the guy should be still in his job if he can't sort this out?" Shearer said.
"Why should he be in his job when he can't sort out the most basic of jobs, which is to get our meat exports into China?"
It was "mind-blowing" that the Government did not have basic information such as how much meat was involved, Shearer said.
"This is hundreds of millions of dollars; the most basic issue in front of us, getting our exports out of New Zealand and into other countries," he said.
"Our largest trading partner is China. Nathan Guy should get off his hands, get up there if he needs to, and get it off the wharves."
Who won the leaders' election debate?Related story: Debate turns slug-fest