Chinese measures to curb sales of counterfeit meat may be a factor in millions of dollars of exported New Zealand meat being held up on Chinese wharves, Prime Minister John Key says.
But Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has dismissed that suggestion, saying the problem is purely a "technical issue" that will soon be resolved.
Thousands of tonnes of lamb, mutton and beef is stuck in containers in ports across China after Chinese officials said there were problems with the accompanying paperwork.
Mr Key yesterday said New Zealand's ambassador to China Carl Worker had confirmed that it was a technical issue holding up shipments. The problem has been linked to the ministry's recent name change from Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, but Mr Key said there had also been recent changes to procedures on the Chinese side.
"That's quite a good long term thing because they are working on making sure there's more robustness about their system, therefore the issue of counterfeit meat - meat that is claimed to have come from New Zealand but maybe wasn't from New Zealand - can be combated.
"In the long term it's probably a good thing for New Zealand but there has been a short term hiccup."
But Mr Guy yesterday denied the delay had anything to do with the counterfeit meat issue.
"I know that China is tightening up its internal systems to do with that. I don't think this issue is part of that. This is a technical issue to do with documentation."
Chinese authorities last week ordered local authorities to tighten scrutiny of the production and sale of fake meat products, state news agency Xinhua reported. That came after authorities uncovered a criminal operation found to have sold rat, fox and mink meat as mutton in Shanghai and Jiangsu province.
Mr Key and Mr Guy dismissed media reports suggesting the meat blockade was protectionism resulting from pressure from China's domestic meat industry.
"I genuinely do not believe there's anything more sinister about this," Mr Key said.
"It's just simply a matter where the parties have had some changes in their procedures and they've been a bit talking past each other and now we'll get on and resolve it."
Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said given the importance of the Chinese market for meat exporters, "we must now urgently resolve this matter to the satisfaction of the Chinese authorities".
"Comment must be responsible and informed by fact because speculation could do New Zealand damage in a vital market," he said.
It yesterday emerged the meat blockade may have begun at the start of this month. Mr Guy was unable to say how much meat was involved but Beef and Lamb NZ yesterday said New Zealand has been exporting about 4600 tonnes of beef and sheepmeat worth around $21 million to China each week so far this year.
Mr Key said additional updated information requested by Chinese authorities had now been provided to them.
"The Chinese are working through the information quickly and constructively and we're hopeful the issue will be resolved this week."