No more China audits of primary export operations on the radar: MPI

Government officials say no further video audits are planned by China on New Zealand primary sectors at this stage, as some seafood exports remain suspended and no word has come back on its scrutiny of apple operations.

The Ministry for Primary Industries said on May 4 it expected to hear within a month the formal findings of China’s “live” or video audit of six apple orchards and packhouses in the Nelson and Tasman regions.

A ministry spokesman said these had not been received. Meanwhile, there was no update on China’s suspension of products from two sites operated by leading seafood exporters Sealord and Sanford. The halts were revealed by the Herald in February.

“There’s no formal timeframe to receive the audit findings, and we can’t draw any conclusions,” the ministry said of the apple audits.

There had been no further audits by China since the apple export scrutiny and no further audits were planned at this stage, it said in response to Herald inquiries.

Pipfruit industry advocate NZ Apples and Pears chief executive Alan Pollard who has previously declined to comment until the audit results are in, said it was not unusual for outcomes to take some time – particularly given challenges in-country around the world currently.

“We will continue to await the outcome but we are very happy how MPI and the industry came together to seek to provide the assurances the Chinese officials were seeking.”

The export apple and pear sector earned just over $900 million last year. China is its third biggest market.

MPI has played down the audits, saying last month “they’re part of the normal interactions between the regulators of different countries and include providing assurances the systems used to produce and export food products are robust”.

Since February the ministry’s only response when asked about the ongoing seafood export suspensions has been that it is engaging with Chinese officials.

The ministry alerted New Zealand’s multi-billion dollar dairy and meat export sectors to the Chinese audits earlier this year.

The Meat Industry Association which represents companies in the $9 billion export meat industry last month expressed “nervousness” about the audits amid uncertainty over China’s rules and requirements.

“The structure of the audits is quite different to what we are used to and it’s caused a lot of nervousness. We are all looking at what is going on with the seafood exports, and now apples,” chief executive Sirma Karapeeva told the Herald.

A major primary sector participant who spoke on condition of anonymity said all primary industry companies with approvals to export to China were “nervous”.

“These (audits) could mark a change of direction, higher standards etc and there’s little advance clarity what China expects … you could be delisted for not meeting a rule or standard that you didn’t know existed.”

“There are lots of inconsistent messages from Chinese customers, different port authorities, regulators of what’s required. Dairy, meat, seafood, horticulture are all in the same basket.”

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