Leaders of New Zealand's $46 billion primary export sector have written to the Prime Minister underlining the "critical" importance of trade with China and urging the Government not to allow the relationship with our biggest export market to deteriorate.
The letter, signed by the chairpersons and chief executives of New Zealand primary sector companies and business groups in the name of Trade Work, a voice of the New Zealand International Business Forum, was copied to Winston Peters, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, and David Parker, Minister for Trade and Export Growth.
Signatories include Fonterra chief executive Miles Hurrell, Sealord, Meat Industry Association, Zespri chairman Bruce Cameron, Export NZ, Beef + Lamb, the Food and Grocery Council and several business advocacy groups.
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The letter follows diplomatic blowback from China over New Zealand's support for Taiwan joining a World Health Organisation meeting as an observer and China's delisting several Australian meat processing plants, a move seen as retaliation for that country's pressure for an investigation into the Wuhan origins of the coronavirus.
China has berated New Zealand, saying the country should "stop making wrong statements" on the issue to avoid damaging bilateral ties.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian has said New Zealand's comments were a severe violation of the "one China" principle, which stated that Taiwan was part of China.
Peters statement last week that China's Ambassador to New Zealand should heed her "master back in Beijing", after a statement about New Zealand's position on Taiwan and the World Health Organisation, has contributed to the tension.
Peters has said he doesn't regret the comment.
"I don't regret that at all because every ambassador should listen to their master. They should listen to who is giving the directions. The directions come from the minister himself and the government."
New Zealand's primary exports to China earn more than $17 billion a year. New Zealand meat companies are known to be highly nervous that China's treatment of the Australian meat sector could be repeated in New Zealand's $9 billion meat processing industry.
The letter from the sector's leaders said they wrote to underscore the importance of the Chinese market for dairy, meat, horticulture, seafood and other products "as we continue to combat the effects of the Covid19 pandemic.
"As expressed in an earlier letter, exporters have been grateful for the Government's
continuing leadership on trade. We have also appreciated your careful stewardship of the
relationship with China and were delighted with the outcome of your visit to Beijing early last year, which served to reset the relationship after a period of difficulty. As you said at the time, differences are bound to arise from time to time, but the important thing is that the two countries continue to talk respectfully to each other and focus on areas of mutual benefit.
"It's likely that a further high-level political visit will not be able to be completed for some time, which makes the ongoing conduct of the diplomatic relationship in these difficult times even more important.
"We sense that officials and affluent consumers within China are particularly sensitive at this time. China is our largest trading partner and for long term structural and market access reasons represents our largest opportunity to underpin an export-led economic recovery.
"We believe that New Zealand needs to balance very carefully any risk of over-dependence on China against the paucity of high-value alternatives, particularly in a potentially protectionist post-Covid-19 world.
"Against this background we are conscious that any deterioration of the relationship could not only eliminate speedy upside potential, but could negatively impact on our existing trade position, accentuating the challenges for New Zealand's economic recovery."
The letter praised Ardern's leadership in keeping Covid-19 under control in New Zealand.
"Now we exporters need to play our part - aside from some minor disruptions to supply chains, trade to China has continued to flow with good co-operation from the Chinese authorities. We very much hope this can be maintained in the coming period and we stand ready to assist in any way possible."
The Prime Minister's office has been approached for comment.