Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Oravida wanted ambassador's help

Opposition parties say Ms Collins' Beijing dinner was about smoothing the way for Oravida's milk exports to China. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Opposition parties say Ms Collins' Beijing dinner was about smoothing the way for Oravida's milk exports to China. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Milk exporting company Oravida lobbied New Zealand's Ambassador to Beijing for help with problems getting its milk into China around the time of Prime Minister John Key's visit early last year.

Documents released to the Weekend Herald by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) show the appeal occurred in April last year — well before both the Fonterra botulism scare and Justice Minister Judith Collins' now-infamous October visit to China, where she dined in Beijing with Oravida bosses and an unnamed Chinese border control official.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission revealed yesterday that Oravida donated a further $30,000 to the National Party just two months after Ms Collins' trip, taking the company's total support in recent years to more than $80,000.

Opposition parties say Ms Collins' Beijing dinner was about smoothing the way for Oravida's milk exports to China, which were facing obstacles by border control agencies following the Fonterra botulism scare. Ms Collins denies the claims.

Oravida had asked for Government help in overcoming those obstacles just before that trip, but the documents show the company was also seeking help with its milk imports months earlier, in April, around the time Mr Key visited China.

In an email to Ambassador Carl Worker, Oravida managing director Julia Xu asks for his help in contacting two people whose identities were redacted from the documents.

Ms Xu explains the pair were to meet with an unnamed official, "and I'd greatly appreciate if they could mention Oravida's potential problems under the new import procedures for dairy products".

The documents also reveal Ms Collins' husband, David Wong-Tung, who is on Oravida's board, lobbied Mr Worker to allow the company to set up stalls promoting its products at two events, including a gala dinner held during Mr Key's visit.

Mr Worker turned down Mr Wong-Tung's request, pointing out the company's scampi was to be served at the dinner but Ms Xu's request to serve Oravida's fresh milk "does not quite fit the tone or style of the menu".

The documents released yesterday also show Ms Collins' staff sought a briefing from MFAT staff before the dinner in Beijing in October, which she says was a private event.

Labour MP Grant Robertson said: "It was clearly a dinner with an official of sufficient standing that she believed it required a ministerial briefing. I also note the comment that the official had agreed to meet the minister. That clearly implies this was something that was being driven by the minister and Oravida."

However, Ms Collins noted her staff withdrew the request for a briefing. "When I found out, I told them ... not to bother as it was a private dinner."

The documents also show a considerable amount of effort and planning by MFAT went into Ms Collins' visit to Oravida's Shanghai offices during her trip, a visit she had initially portrayed as "popping in for a cup of tea" on the way to the airport.

Mr Robertson said Ms Collins' trip was supposed to be a taxpayer-funded visit about justice issues. "Instead the minister used it to conduct multiple engagements to benefit her husband's company."


What's new

• Oravida asked for New Zealand Government help with its milk exports to China in April last year — well before the Fonterra botulism scandal or Judith Collins' dinner in Beijing.

• Oravida paid $30,000 to the National Party two months after Ms Collins' trip.

• Ms Collins initially asked for a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade briefing before the private dinner with Oravida. She later withdrew the request.

- NZ Herald

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