Paperwork needed to finish a Saudi agrihub project was located more than three years after 900 pregnant ewes were flown from New Zealand.
However, work remains stalled despite about $10.3 million in taxpayer money having been spent, with an unassembled abattoir in storage in Hastings.
The spending was approved by the previous National Government in February 2013 and the following year 900 sheep were flown over on Singapore Airlines.
The project remains unfinished because local authorities are yet to sign-off regulatory permits for a state-of-the-art abattoir, despite repeat efforts by the New Zealand Ambassador to get things moving.
Heavily redacted briefing documents and governance group minutes were released to the Herald under the Official Information Act.
The four member governance group visited Saudi Arabia in December 2016, and met with Hmood Al Khalaf, the businessman who owns the agrihub.
Almost a year later permits were still outstanding, despite the NZ Ambassador visiting the Mayor of the Eastern Provinces with Al Khalaf.
On December 6 last year the governance group held a teleconference, with the Mfat representative advising, "the Al Khalaf Group had located the legal documents required by the Mayor [redacted] and these documents had been delivered to the Mayor's office".
In February NZTE provided a briefing to Trade Minister David Parker and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, who were both highly critical of the project while in Opposition.
About $10.3 million had been spent on the project to date, with the remaining $1.170m relating to the abattoir delivery and installation, officials told the ministers. Equipment and parts have been built and are currently in a storage facility in Hastings, at a cost of $730 per month.
Trade and Economic Development Minister David Parker told the Herald the Government was contractually obliged to commit the remaining funds, if the permit issues could be resolved.
The previous Government's actions in relation to the deal were shabby and mismanaged, Parker said, and there was no evidence the agrihub would benefit New Zealand or Kiwi companies.
"I'm yet to see a significant benefit from the model farm in the desert," Parker said.
The agrihub deal was made by the former government partly as an effort to secure a free trade deal with the Gulf States. Al Khalaf had lost millions of dollars after New Zealand banned live sheep exports over animal welfare concerns in 2003, and ill-feeling over his treatment was identified as an obstacle to an FTA progressing.
National's trade spokesman Todd McClay said the agreement was undertaken in good faith to try and clean up a mess left after the previous Labour government promised sheep exports for slaughter to the Saudis, then reneged.
That threatened trade with Saudi Arabia, but also trade with the wider Gulf States, which McClay said was a "$4.5 billion problem".
"The Government was faced with a choice - do we just write-off our current and future trade arrangements with a very important trading bloc, or do we find a way through.
"Mr Parker could spend less time relitigating the Auditor-General's report which found the previous government acted correctly, and more time working with officials to sort out this consent issue."
Progress on an FTA with the Gulf countries has stalled after fallout between Qatar and other council members.
An NZTE spokesman said securing the regulatory approvals and operating the abattoir were matters for the Al Khalaf Group, the spokesman said, as was animal welfare.
"We understand the animals are in good health and the flock continues to significantly increase in number."
In November 2016 Auditor-General Lyn Provost released her report into the expenditure of public money on the agrihub, finding no corruption but "significant shortcomings", including a lack of clarity around how the Government settled on the amounts to pay Al Khalaf.
Live sheep exports are currently a political issue in Australia, with the Opposition pledging to halt them after leaked footage from an export ship on which more than 2000 sheep died.
February 2013: National Government approves proposal to spend millions on a Saudi businessman's farm.
October 2014: 900 pregnant ewes arrive in Saudi Arabia by airfreight.
December 2017: Legal documents required by a local Mayor before the abattoir can be approved are located.
Now: Abattoir permit still not granted by Saudi authorities. Equipment remains in storage in Hastings.