Three months on, New Zealand exports are fast returning to pre-Covid-19 levels as China's economy re-opens and consumer confidence returns.

The Ministry for Primary Industries is sending a further two of its staff members to Beijing to strengthen New Zealand's engagement with its largest export market.

MPI Counsellor for market access Ivan Veljkovic, along with his family, and Second Secretary Eileen Nowland-Walker will leave for Beijing in the next week or so.

They will be strengthening relations with Chinese regulators for New Zealand's primary product exports and working with Chinese officials from a range of different agencies.

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New Zealand's trading relationship with China "is our most valuable" said Veljkovic.

"Our meat, logs, apples, kiwifruit, seafood and dairy products are in high demand. We don't feel it as a weight on our shoulders, but we know how important it is to get it right," he said.

New Zealand's export market to China in 2019 was worth NZ$20 billion.

Kiwi dairy products (milk powder, infant formula, and cheese), wood (logs, wood, and wood articles), meat and edible offal, fruit, seafood and Mānuka honey are all sought-after by customers in China.

City of Beijing in lockdown. Photo / Tim Knox
City of Beijing in lockdown. Photo / Tim Knox

Strict controls to stop the spread of the coronavirus slowed supply chains across China early this year and saw the effective shut-down of China's food service sector.

That led to orders of imported food being cancelled and delays getting product into the market.

This had a significant impact on some New Zealand exports, with forest products, rock lobster and other seafood being particularly hard hit. But, three months on, as China's economy re-opens and consumer confidence returns, Kiwi exports are returning to pre-Covid-19 levels.

"I feel relaxed about going over, there's good information and support," said Nowland-
Walker, who has also had two years of language training in Taipei to prepare for her secondment.

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Tim Knox at a signing of protocol. Photo / Supplied
Tim Knox at a signing of protocol. Photo / Supplied

Tim Knox, MPI's deputy director-general of China Relations, has been back working from the NZ Embassy in Beijing since early February.

Knox said the city of 22 million inhabitants resembled a ghost town when he first returned, as Covid-19 began to peak in China.

"I stayed in a hotel when I first arrived, I was the only guest for the first few days. Then as cases in China reduced and life gradually began to return to some sort of normality, New Zealand was going into lockdown – that was a strange experience," Knox said.

Veljkovic and Nowland-Walker will join Knox and MPI's two other staff already stationed in Beijing – Ron Xavier and Ashlin Chand, along with MPI's five local staff members.