Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Milk scare tops Key's agenda with Chinese premier

Prime Minister John Key's first big meeting at Apec in Bali will be with Chinese President Xi Jinping tomorrow night when Fonterra's food safety scare will be top of the agenda.

Mr Key said last night he would be giving Mr Xi assurances about Fonterra and New Zealand's food safety standards but indicated he would not be apologising because the scare turned out to be a false alarm.

"I don't think we'd apologise," he told the Weekend Herald. "While there was a scare, as we now know it didn't contain botulism and I think it would be elevating it."

He wanted to make it clear New Zealand took food safety seriously.

He would be assuring Mr Xi that the formal inquiries would be thorough and China would get a full report. If investigations highlighted the need for change "we will make that change".

Whey-based products including some infant formula were withdrawn in August after Fonterra suspected 38 tonnes of whey protein had been contaminated with a botulism-causing bacterium. Further testing showed it was a false alarm.

The issue damaged New Zealand's reputation and Chinese distributors are continuing to dump New Zealand infant formula products, according to Michael Barnett, NZ Infant Formula Exporters' Association chairman.

Mr Key said he would still like to visit China after the results of the Government-ordered inquiry were known so he could "put a bit of context" around the issue but, again, there might be no apology.

Tomorrow night's meeting with Mr Xi will be the first since Mr Key's visit to China in April.

President Barack Obama yesterday said he was pulling out of Apec because of the United States Government shutdown.

- NZ Herald

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