The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is reassuring New Zealand exporters that their products continue to be cleared into China, as fears simmer that Kiwi companies are on a trade blacklist following access problems for fresh salmon shipments.
The country's biggest seafood company and exporter Sanford says administrative issues with its salmon exports to China have caused delays getting several shipments cleared through Chinese ports since the end of last month.
While Sanford has not suggested the holdups are a result of a deteriorating relationship between New Zealand and its free trade agreement partner following the Government decision to exclude Chinese company Huawei from Spark's 5G network tender process, news of this issue has fanned concerns that our economic cornerstone food export sectors could be next to feel China's displeasure.
Scheduled diplomatic and tourism promotional events between the two countries have been put on hold by China this month.
But the ministry (MFAT) has hosed down concerns.
"In a trade relationship of this scale, there will be cases where products face issues at the border, for a range of reasons including questions of regulatory compliance or revised border inspection processes," a spokesperson said.
"The overall picture is one of a significant trade relationships working effectively, in both directions."
MFAT was mindful that all functions within China's border clearance agencies were being restructure under one single agency.
"Customs officials who this time last year worked for different agencies are now performing new functions, using new systems and following newly-learned practices.
"This may affect timeliness in some instances, but has a corresponding benefit of seeing more consistency in the application of regulations across all ports of entry."
MFAT said no New Zealand product had appeared on China Customs latest December list of food import non-compliances that have led to product rejection at the Chinese border.
"To date we do not have evidence that points to a pattern of targeted intervention at the Chinese border impacting on access for New Zealand goods," the MFAT spokesperson said.
"We not have received indication of anything out the ordinary in China's border clearance procedures for New Zealand products."
New Zealand exports to China last year were valued at $15.3 billion - of which dairy products were the biggest earner at more than $4 billion.
China is the biggest export market for many New Zealand primary products, including dairy, fish, kiwifruit and logs.
The value of trade between the two countries last year was NZ$27 billion.
Speaking to The Herald this afternoon, Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis said the issue had been blown out of proportion.
"It is important to keep a level head about what is going on," he said, adding that there was "no cause for concern".
He talked up New Zealand's tourism relationship with China, saying that most Chinese visitors give New Zealand high marks when it comes to their overall satisfaction.
In fact, he said the numbers of Chinese tourists who will come to New Zealand is expected to increase.
Davis was not concerned with reports that New Zealand's reputation in China had taken a hit and said that was all just "silly speculation."
He said he had not had any briefings on the issue, as "there is actually not an issue".
"People are being hyper-sensitive over the issues, but there are no trends occurring. I'm totally confident that the relationship with China is strong."
Earlier this week, China postponed the 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism event at Te Papa museum, which was meant to kick off next week.
Davis said this was simply a scheduling issue and downplayed the fact that the launch had been postponed.
"We're working with them to reschedule that launch. It's just a launch – there have been activities that have been happening and will continue to happen throughout the year regardless."
Meanwhile, Davis rubbished reports by the English version of China's People's Daily.
According to the publication, a traveller who saved more than $3200 to come to New Zealand, cancelled his plans to punish New Zealand for the Government's banning Huawei's involvement in the rollout of 5G.
"On Chinese person out of a billion does not constitute a trend," Davis said.
China is New Zealand's biggest export seafood market, last year returning $500m.
Dairy exporter Fonterra, New Zealand's largest company, said it had no cause for concern in China.
A spokesman said New Zealand dairy products had been in China for decades and China was a key market.
"We enjoy a long-standing and constructive relationship with China and our many customers there. While of course we always keep a close watching brief on international trade developments, we have no cause for concern in China and aren't experiencing any conditions in our export relationship which are out of the ordinary."
The country's second biggest dairy exporter Open Country Dairy said it had experienced no issues. "It's business as usual," said chairman Laurie Margrain.
The Dairy Industry Companies Association did not respond to an approach for comment.
ExportNZ executive director Catherine Beard said she had not received any complaints from any exporters about being held up at Chinese ports.
A spokesman for kiwifruit marketer Zespri, which last year exported more than $500m of fruit to China, its biggest market, said it was "business as usual".
Meat Industry Association chief executive Tim Ritchie said he was not aware of any issues with exports to China, which is New Zealand's biggest sheepmeat market, taking 45 per cent of all the country's sheepmeat exports.
China is New Zealand's second biggest market for beef exports after the US, last year returning $2.1 billion.
A spokesman for the forestry industry, which last year earned 48 per of its export income from China with $3b, said it was not aware of any issues.
But with New Zealand and China officials negotiating a solution to the use of log fumigant methyl bromide "a deterioration in the relationship with China would certainly put extra pressure on negotiations".
Use of methyl bromide by New Zealand is nearing expiration but it is the only fumigant approved by China.
NZTE chief executive Peter Chrisp said he had talked to many companies in the past week or two about trade with China.
"We have been contacted by companies that have advised us there's dilemmas. Some have got dilemmas, some haven't - for me, not enough to draw conclusion about a pattern at this point in time."