Major NZ seafood exporters hit by Chinese trade suspension

Seafood export leaders and Government officials are urgently seeking clarification from Chinese authorities after learning China has suspended exports from two major New Zealand seafood company processing sites.

The Ministry for Primary Industries said China had suspended exports from a Sanford site in Havelock that processes mussels and a Sealord facility in Nelson that processes fin fish and fishmeal for animal feeds.

The suspensions were due to issues around the interpretation of the World Health Organisation’s Covid guidance and food safety management, said MPI deputy director-general policy and trade Julie Collins, in response to Herald inquiries.

Both sites had been recently subject to live video audits by Chinese Customs, she said.

Both had been complying under New Zealand’s alert level 1 protocols.

China is New Zealand’s biggest seafood export market, closely followed by the US and Australia.

Industry organisation Seafood NZ said exports to China in 2019 returned $713 million, up from $597m in 2018. However more recent Government figures put the value at $400 million in the year to October 2020 after the impact of Covid on imports China’s hospitality sector.

Greenshell mussels were the top earning export to China, earning $337m in 2019.

MPI’s Collins said New Zealand had taken strong measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and did not have community transmission.

“This includes our strong hygiene measures put in place by food manufacturers and exporters, which adapt to each level of risk according to our Covid-19 alert level.

“It’s important to note that the WHO’s guidance says it’s highly unlikely that Covid-19 can spread by food or packaging.”

Industry players were last night mystified by the suspension development.

One pointed to China’s targeting of the Australian coal industry in retaliation for Australia’s criticism of Chinese government policies.

“Is this our coal moment? Is this a trade barrier? We don’t know.”

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade in October said the value of New Zealand seafood exports to China was so far down almost 21 per cent compared with 2019, and down 5 per cent on 2018 figures.

It forecast sales of premium fresh seafood were likely to continue to be sluggish due to the slower recovery in the restaurant and hospitality (hotels) sectors as well the banquet sector, which heavily impacted lobster sales in particular.

However there were signs for optimism with spending in these sectors starting to trend upwards, the ministry said. Consumer perceptions of the risks around imported frozen products could have had an impact on demand, it said.

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