A Covid scare with Kiwi produce imported into China could have repercussions for New Zealand exporters

Chinese officials say a batch of New Zealand kiwifruit imported into the country has tested positive for Covid-19, in news which could concern Kiwi exporters wary of any clampdown.

The CCP-owned Global Times reported that samples from a batch of kiwifruit imported from New Zealand had tested positive for Covid-19, with some of the fruit already sold in the eastern city of Nantong.

The outlet said the city’s officials had issued a statement alerting residents to the test result, and urging anyone who had bought the kiwifruit, or been to the supermarket where it was sold, to report to its health department.

“Control measures” had been taken for close contacts connected to the store, while a number of related Covid tests had all come back negative.

As previously reported by Newsroom, officials in New Zealand have warned exporters that a single positive Covid-19 case within their workforce could lead to Chinese authorities immediately suspending their export rights and forcing a recall of their products.

The new import measures, covering “all cold chain food products that are normally stored and transported under refrigeration, including vegetables and fruit”, were described by sector figures as adding to the stresses businesses face as they deal with strained supply lines and the public health requirements of operating throughout a domestic Covid outbreak.

Zespri chief executive Dan Mathieson told Newsroom the company was taking the matter “extremely seriously”, launching emergency management plans and cooperating with relevant government agencies to trace the product shipment.

 “The New Zealand kiwifruit industry adheres to the highest industry safety standards and to date there have been no reported cases of Covid-19 in orchards or packhouses,” Mathieson said.

The affected fruit was from the Bay of Plenty – where no community transmission had been reported – and was packed in May before being shipped from Tauranga on August 16.

The shipment was tested for Covid-19 then disinfected upon arrival in China by China Customs and Zespri, as well as being disinfected, as per standard customs protocols for the country.

Mathieson said Zespri had “worked strictly in accordance with the requirements of the relevant national regulatory authorities” since the beginning of the pandemic and followed all Covid prevention and eradication work programmes for imported fruit and market distribution.

Trade and Export Growth Minister Damien O’Connor has been approached for comment.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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