Fonterra's head of greater China operations has resigned from the board of Beingmate Baby & Child one month after the Kiwi dairy giant unwound its joint venture with the Chinese infant formula company.
Christina Zhu had been a director of Beingmate since Fonterra took an 18.8 per cent stake in the company in 2015. She is president of Fonterra's consumer and food service business unit in China.
According to a notice to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange she resigned from Beingmate on Friday, citing "personal reasons".
However, a Fonterra spokesman told the Herald that Zhu was stepping down due to a conflict of interest.
"We recognise a potential conflict of interest exists since we took back the marketing and sales for our Anmum brand and we're addressing that. Anmum now competes directly with some of Beingmate's products in China," the spokesman said.
"At the same time, China is a very important market to us and the performance of our Consumer and Foodservice business deserves local senior management's singular focus."
Fonterra's other designated Beingmate director, Johan Priem, remains on the board of the Chinese company.
In February 2018 Priem and Zhu broke ranks and refused to sign off on the company accounts when it recorded a preliminary net loss of $211 million for the 2017 financial year.
Along with independent director Liu Xiaosong they said they could not guarantee the contents of the annual profit announcement, while expressing concerns about possible asset impairments and internal control of the company.
The three directors said they could not verify the company's disclosures were not false, misleading or inaccurate.
Soon after independent auditor Tianjian Certified Public Accountants singled out several areas of concern at Beingmate, including the level of related party transactions and handling of accounts receivables.
Last month Fonterra officially unwound a joint venture arrangement with Beingmate, taking back full ownership of the Darnum manufacturing plant in Australia.
While the transaction was done on a no cash basis, Beingmate will continue to purchase goods in return for selling back to Fonterra the 51 percent stake in the plant it bought from the co-op.
"Beingmate will remain a cornerstone customer of the Darnum site," Fonterra said. "As part of the agreement we have entered into a multi-year supply contract for Beingmate to purchase ingredients from us."
The original joint venture was created in 2016 as part of the broader partnership that saw Fonterra take an 18.8 per cent stake in Beingmate Baby & Child Food for $755m, or 18 yuan a share.
Shares in Beingmate have rallied to their highest point in more than a year to 6.85 yuan (NZ$1.49) following a return to profit last year.
In a preliminary announcement Beingmate said its operating revenue fell by 6.92 per cent to 2.47 billion yuan (NZ$541.79 million) in 2018 but its net profit was up 104 per cent to 40.92 million yuan (NZ$8.97m).
Fonterra's 18.8 per cent stake in China's Beingmate remains under review.