The Ministry for Primary Industries says it is fixing an error that left gold kiwifruit off a list of New Zealand fruit that can be imported into China, sparking industry fears the lucrative export could be caught up in a Chinese bio-security clampdown.
Concerned industry sources contacted the Herald last night after MPI confirmed the Chinese authorities had placed a "temporary suspension" on imports of kiwi berries.
"This is because China intends to conduct a risk assessment of kiwi berries for bio-security purposes," an MPI spokesman said last night.
The berries are similar in size to grapes but resemble kiwifruit and have a smooth, edible skin.
The Herald understands that China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) previously allowed imports of the kiwi berries, known as Actinidia arguta, due to their similarity to green kiwifruit (Actinidia deliciosa).
But a recent regulatory change had established kiwi berries as a separate species, meaning exporting countries would need to undertake new market access negotiations.
Industry sources pointed out that MPI's Importing Countries Phytosanitary Requirements (ICPR) list for China said only Actinidia deliciosa (green) kiwifruit were permitted to enter China.
The list is not an official Chinese document, rather a guide that MPI provides to the industry.
But the sources were worried that both kiwi berries and gold kiwifruit (Actinidia chinensis), marketed by Zespri as SunGold, could end up being caught in China's bio-security clampdown.
"In other words, at the start of the season when harvesting is not far away, we find out that we cannot send two varieties of kiwifruit [kiwi berries and gold] to China," one source said.
However, an MPI spokesman said this morning that gold kiwifruit had simply "fallen off" the ICPR list.
"Both green and gold kiwifruit are supposed to be on that list," he said. "We'll be making that update shortly."
The spokesman said green and gold kiwifruit were unaffected by the Chinese import ban.
New Zealand kiwifruit exports to China were worth $123 million in 2014, according to the Horticulture Export Authority.
Yesterday, MPI said it was working with Chinese authorities on resuming exports of kiwi berries as quickly as possible.
New Zealand has exported only around 99 tonnes of kiwi berries to China since 2011, according to MPI.