Zespri bullish on China

China could become Zespri's biggest market within five years but it also could become a major competitor on world markets, the annual meeting of the global kiwifruit marketer has heard.

New chairman Peter McBride told around 400 growers in Tauranga that the future was bright for kiwifruit exports to China and that the recent conviction of Zespri's China subsidiary on smuggling charges would have no impact on that future.

Mt Manganui-based Zespri, the New Zealand's dominant exporter of the fruit, last week lost an appeal in China against a conviction for underpaying customs duties. A Zespri Chinese employee is in prison as a result of the charge.

Zespri received no financial benefit as a result of its importers in China underpaying customs duties, McBride said.

Fines for the conviction wiped nearly $6 million off Zespri's net profit for the year, a double blow for growers battling the devastating Psa-V disease that has now infected 75 per cent of the country's orchards.

McBride said China again delivered record returns, with volumes up 9 per cent to 10 million trays. Market revenue was up 19 per cent to almost $140m.

The meeting heard that while global kiwifruit production is falling, production in China is rising.

Last year China produced around 700,000 tonnes of kiwifruit for domestic consumers. Around a quarter of this was estimated to be red or gold kiwifruit.

"While China's growing expertise is still basic, it is clear there has been a rapid expansion in kiwifruit plantings and knowledge in recent years. This means China will become a significant world exporter."