China’s suspension of some NZ seafood exports still in place

Official resolution of China’s freeze on some New Zealand seafood exports is still a work in progress.

China earlier this month suspended exports from a Sanford company site in Havelock that processes mussels and a Sealord facility in Nelson that processes fin fish and fish meal for animal feeds.

The Ministry for Primary Industries, which is leading the response to the suspensions, has said they were due to issues around the interpretation of the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 guidance and food safety management, and followed a live video audit of the sites by Chinese customs.

MPI’s only response to Herald inquiries on progress continues to be that it is working constructively with Chinese officials.

Players in the $2 million seafood export industry have heard little more than that too.

Sources say the problem is being handled with kid gloves because of New Zealand-China trade sensitivities and importance.

“These things move slowly,” said one observer.

Sealord and Sanford themselves have little to say on the matter.

NZX-listed Sanford in a statement said: “MPI is taking the lead on these conversations with China and Sanford is providing MPI with information as required.”

A Sealord spokesperson said the company was in liaison with MPI, which was keeping it informed of any developments.

“Due to Chinese New Year, we’re not expecting an immediate response. Our understanding is that the issue is around the interpretation of the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 guidance, and food safety management. There is little material impact for Sealord to date.”

Industry advocate Seafood NZ said its understanding was that MPI had “a good engagement with the Chinese and are continuing to work with them on a resolution”.

Asked about the quality of information the sector was receiving from the Government, the organisation, which represents commercial fishing companies, said it was happy with communications.

Seafood NZ said it was “not concerned regarding timeframes at this stage”.

China is New Zealand’s biggest seafood export market, closely followed by the US and Australia.

Industry organisation Seafood NZ said exports to China in 2019 returned $713 million, up from $597m in 2018. However, more recent Government figures put the value at $400m in the year to October 2020 after the impact of Covid on China’s hospitality and retail sector.

Greenshell mussel exports to China earned $337m in 2019.

Sanford acting chief executive Andre Gargiulo earlier told the Herald the company operated all its facilities to the highest standards of food safety.

“We have been adhering to New Zealand’s level 1 protocols for processing and had put in place further requirements for the Chinese market. We are working closely with MPI to find a way forward.”

Sanford told the NZX in a statement last week it did not anticipate a material impact on its operations or sales from the suspension of exports from its Havelock plant to China.

Sealord chief executive Doug Paulin earlier said the company was working closely with MPI and other Government officials to resolve the situation.

“Sealord operates all our facilities at the highest standards of food safety, passing all previous audits. We have in place additional protocols for China. Sealord won an industry Seafood Star Award for its Covid-19 response including implementation of strict hygiene and safety measures.

“At this point in time, there is little material impact for Sealord, however it is important for this to be resolved for the future. We await the outcome of discussions between Government officials and their counterparts in Beijing,” Paulin said.

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