Scrutiny a technical issue: Zespri

By Christopher Adams, Jamie Gray

Kiwifruit being loaded onto a ship in Tauranga Harbour. Photo / NZ Herald
Kiwifruit being loaded onto a ship in Tauranga Harbour. Photo / NZ Herald

Zespri and the Government are batting away suggestions that politics has played any role in increased scrutiny of New Zealand kiwifruit entering China.

The Chinese authorities have increased quarantine and inspection requirements after the fungus Neofabraea actinidiae was detected in four containers of Zespri fruit that arrived at the port of Tianjin.

The "warning notification" from China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (Aqsiq) follows talk that Beijing could be preparing reprisals against Kiwi primary industry exporters in response to a possible investigation by local officials into alleged Chinese steel dumping.

The Aqsiq notice referred to the fungus as a "rot pathogen" and said it was a "major disease" that occurred when kiwifruit was in storage.

It could infect other fruit including apples and persimmons causing "serious economic loss", Aqsiq said.

Zespri says the fungus has no food-safety implications and is found in a range of plants in countries including Ecuador, the United States, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.

Kiwifruit shipments were continuing to flow across the border into China, according to the company.

It emerged last month that Trade Minister Todd McClay had been told by NZ embassy staff in Beijing that the possibility of retaliatory action had been raised with a Zespri staffer in China by a related trade association of kiwifruit importers.

That rumour was investigated by NZ officials and said to have had no foundation.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said there was nothing to indicate the increased Chinese scrutiny of kiwifruit was anything other than a technical issue.

"These kind of issues aren't uncommon - exporters expect to work with local authorities on technical matters fairly regularly," Guy said.

Zespri's chief operating officer, Simon Limmer, also said the matter was being treated as a technical issue.

"We are working our way through it to understand what the implications are," Limmer said.

China is a rapidly growing market for Zespri. It is already its biggest market by volume - representing 18 per cent of kiwifruit sales.

Zespri is two-thirds of the way through the kiwifruit export season.

Limmer said there would be no interruption in exports to China.

"But we have notifications that if they were to find any more incidence of this, then we would need to deal with it," he said. "We are looking at what additional checks might be made onshore to ensure that there is no incidence of this."

Market research firm Trace Research said the fungus detection was being discussed in Chinese social media and there was potential for it to damage Zespri's brand in China.

- NZ Herald

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