20 May 2013

Govt moves to sort out trade problem with China

10:21 pm on 20 May 2013

Prime Minister John Key says Chinese customs officials now have the information they require to sort out issues with imports of New Zealand sheep and beef meat.

Over the past couple of weeks Chinese customs officials have refused to clear deliveries of meat due to confusion over a name change on documentation.

On 1 March this year, export certificates for companies to send meat to China were changed to recognise that the former Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) is now known as the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

Mr Key said on Monday that Chinese customs officials had requested more information about that.

"We don't think we have all of the information at this stage about exactly why there's been a bit of a breakdown. It's a technical issue, as we understand it. The Chinese side have been asking for more information and they've now apparently got all that information.

"But look, at one level there have been changes on both sides - we've been changing the name of the organisation that's issuing those certificates. On the Chinese side, they've also been changing their procedures."

Mr Key said China has been working to make its sheep and beef import measures more robust to prevent counterfeit meat from entering the country. He hoped the matter could be resolved this week.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme the delays have been apparent for about three weeks, but the ministry was only advised there was a problem with the import certificates on 13 May.

"So that we're only talking in the last week and now there's been a call to arms to get this issue resolved.

"Well, if officials in China or New Zealand officials alerted it up to ministers, I'm sure we could have reacted sooner and that will be one of the lessons when we look back over this - how it occurred and what happened."

In the meantime, the Ministry for Primary Industries has stopped issuing export certificates for companies to send sheep and beef meat there at the request of Chinese authorities.

The move effectively shuts down the lucrative trade for now and has left meat companies in New Zealand picking up the bill for storing their product at ports.

Nathan Guy said most of the product is frozen and is being properly stored while awaiting clearance.

The ministry said it is not sure exactly how much meat is involved.