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Morgan Tait

Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's consumer affairs reporter.

Sir Henry backtracks on China call

Warning not to trust Chinese in business dealings was ill-judged, says ex-chairman of Fonterra in apology.

Sir Henry van der Heyden. Photo / APN
Sir Henry van der Heyden. Photo / APN

The former chairman of New Zealand's biggest exporter, Sir Henry van der Heyden, is in damage control over comments that Chinese should not be trusted when doing business there.

Sir Henry, who was chairman when Fonterra was dragged into the 2008 Sanlu melamine scandal, warned exporters to be wary of fraudulent behaviour in China.

"Don't ever trust them ... never," he said at a businesswomen's conference in Tauranga over the weekend.

Yesterday he apologised, saying the comments were ill-judged and had been taken out of context.

"What I was trying to say is they work in a different culture and you need to be aware that things are often done quite differently," he told National Radio. "It was an ill-judged comment that I made and I do actually regret making the comment and I actually have apologised, to China, its government and its people."

Sir Henry said his comments did not reflect the policies of Fonterra or Auckland International Airport, where he is a director and takes over as chairman later this year.

Auckland Airport chairwoman Joan Withers said she knew Sir Henry viewed China and Asia as critical to New Zealand's economic future.

She believed the airport's Asian partners would understand Sir Henry was committed to those relationships, "so I don't see any damage whatsoever".

Fonterra chairman John Wilson, who replaced Sir Henry late last year, said last night that the comment was "unfortunate" but he understood it was taken out of context.

But China and New Zealand Business Council spokeswoman Lilly Shi said Sir Henry's comments could be damaging.

"We don't think it is a good idea to make such broad comments. Just because one project didn't work doesn't mean that all Chinese businesses are not trustworthy or don't want to work with New Zealanders.

"If you trade with any other country this is something you need to deal with - there will be misinterpretation and miscommunications."

Sir Henry's comments come just as an end is in sight to the Chinese block on New Zealand meat imports.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, who has been increasingly under fire as the three-week impasse over unauthorised documentation rolled on, yesterday said Chinese authorities had accepted revised documents.

"It will take some time to clear the backlog, but it's positive we will have meat moving into the hands of Chinese consumers again," Mr Guy said.

He said MPI officials responsible for the bungle had apologised to their Chinese counterparts, ministers and the meat industry.

Compensation for exporters was being discussed by MPI's director-general and the industry, he said.

Labour leader David Shearer said serious questions were emerging over Mr Guy's handling of the issue.

"This is a fiasco.

"Nathan Guy's been sitting on his hands, he's blaming his officials, you've got to ask whether the guy should still be in his job."

- NZ Herald

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