Former Fonterra chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden has apologised to "China and its people and Government" for his controversial warning to Kiwi business exporters not to trust the Chinese.
Sir Henry made his public apology during a lunchtime recess at his final Fonterra board meeting as director yesterday for the comments he made at a Tauranga business women's conference over the weekend and reported in the Bay of Plenty Times.
He was asked by an export manufacturer how small Kiwi businesses could ensure they were not ripped off when trading in China and he replied that bad experiences should be used as opportunities to learn.
"That's my point about China. You will be full of surprises. Don't ever trust them ... never."
But yesterday, Mr Van der Heyden issued a public apology.
"It was an ill-judged comment taken out of context. I apologise to China, its people and its Government. China is where New Zealand's future is."
He said the real intent of his comments was to warn exporters to be "Be wary, be very careful".
Vivien Ting, head teacher at NZ Chinese Language School in Tauranga, said it was unfair to make such a generalisation.
"But I totally agree with Sir Henry that anyone wanting to do business in China needs to have done their homework, and go there with their eyes open wide, and in fact go with a few pairs of eyes if you can," she said.
Federated Farmers Bay of Plenty branch president John Scrimgeour said Sir Henry's warning comments could damage New Zealand's relationship with China.
"[But] I hope not. I think [the comments] were a little unwise and given a man of his experience I'm a little bit surprised. But, on the other hand, given Fonterra's role in the Sanlu melamine scandal I guess his warning comes from a man who had his fingers burnt," he said.
ExportNZ executive director Catherine Beard found it hard to believe that Sir Henry would have made the comments.
"I'm surprised. I have just come back from a trade visit to China and this is certainly not the message we want to send back to them from New Zealand," she said.
"When it comes to doing business in China it's all about relationships, building good working relationships and developing trust between each other is vital, and trust is a two-way vehicle."
Ms Beard said her advice was to do your homework when going to China to drum up business.
"Because China is a very big, highly-competitive market with lots of different languages and different cultures and laws it needs lots of time and energy to understand those differences, and to foster good relationships and build trust with those you want to do business with," she said.
NZ China Council executive director Pat English, who had recently returned from living and working in China for 12 years, said Sir Henry's choice of words was "unfortunate".
But Sir Henry was right in that people have to go to China with their eyes wide open as there were vast differences from doing business in New Zealand, he said.
Trading success with China centred on building relationships and trust.
Mr English is a former New Zealand Consul General and Trade Commissioner in Guangzhou, and was part of the team which negotiated the New Zealand China Free Trade Agreement.additional reporting APNZ