There’s anger at a decision by NZ’s biggest grower to keep selling its fruit to the pariah power, flouting self-imposed industry boycotts.

The country’s largest organic apple grower, Bostock, continues to supply apples to Russia, upsetting other growers who ceased exports after President Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

The owner of the multi-million dollar Hawke’s Bay operation, John Bostock, confirmed the company is shipping containers of apples to Russia but says the move is under review.

Bostock and his company’s marketing and communications manager, Catherine Wedd, refused to answer further questions.

In response to a list of emailed questions Wedd sent a brief response condemning Putin and suggesting human welfare was the reason for continuing its trade with Russia.

“Bostock New Zealand is appalled by the abhorrent behaviour of the Putin regime and does not support the war on Ukraine. Bostock New Zealand backs the supply of humanitarian food shipments to Russia and Ukraine and will continue to monitor the situation and the advice of the New Zealand Government.”

Industry sources have told Newsroom Bostock’s move has caused enormous frustration among other growers and exporters who have stopped trading with Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

It is not illegal to send food products to Russia under the new sanctions regime but many companies, including apple exporters, have pulled out at a substantial cost to their business. Dairy giant Fonterra suspended shipments at the end of February.

Parliament passed the Russia Sanctions Bill in mid-March, which includes 35 percent tariffs on all Russian imports, a ban on the export of industrial products such as ICT equipment and engines, as well as asset freezes and travel bans on individuals linked to Putin, and bans on financial dealings with Russia.

At that time, the pipfruit industry group New Zealand Apple and Pears Inc sent a memo to members pointing out that it was not illegal to send apples to Russia but warning them there were greater risks with shipping and payment due to the international sanctions.

It said it could neither authorise nor prohibit market activity by individual exporters.

Its chairman, Richard Punter, said the organisation would not comment on Bostock’s decision or get involved in individual companies’ business on such a highly emotive issue.

In 2020, apples and pears were the second largest New Zealand export to Russia, worth $19.8 million, but well behind butter at $115 million.

Stats NZ does not have up-to-date figures on how many companies are still exporting to Russia but data to the end of March lists apples, mussels, dairy food, onions, wine, lamb skins, machines including jaw crushers and therapeutic respiration apparatus.

Bostock is one of two main apple exporters to Russia. The other firm, Freshco, pulled out in March.

Director John Mangan said his company took a big hit when it cancelled its apple shipments. Freshco had been sending the fruit to the port at Vladivostok in eastern Russia for several years and the trade was worth up to US$6 million a year to the company, he said.

The company had seven containers of apples on the wharf in Napier in mid-March when the sanctions were announced.

“Three of them were already on the vessel and going and four we managed to get off. So we got four back but three of them went,” he said.

They were the last Freshco shipment to Russia and even though their Vladivostok customer paid for the apples, the sanctions meant that the New Zealand banks stopped the payment going through and sent it back to Russia, Mangan said.

He declined to comment on Bostock’s decision to continue to send apples to Russia.

Bostock also grows and markets vegetables and grains, and produces its own wine label In Hawke’s Bay. It employs up to 800 staff in peak season. Associated companies include Bostock Brothers chicken and Auzora International, set up by John Bostock and Anthony Bruford.

Bruford confirmed the company was also involved in apple shipments to Russia but was not available to give further details.

Bostock is also in partnership with Milford Asset Management, growing and exporting Southern Honeycrisp apples to the US. Milford investment director Brooke Bone said the joint venture only sends apples to North America and he did not want to comment on other parts of the Bostock business.

In a promotional video John Bostock says Bostock wants to be a “truly sustainable company – that means environmentally, socially and financially”.

The Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s office referred Newsroom to a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which says it cannot comment of the activities of a particular company.

It says it is not aware of which specific businesses continue to export goods to Russia, however it notes the sanctions apply only to specific individuals and entities, not Russia as a whole.

MFAT says it will have a clearer picture of current exports with Russia after Statistics NZ releases export trade data for April this Friday, May 20.

The ministry says “it is worth noting that the international business environment in relation to Russia is difficult and complex due to other countries’ sanctions, as well as private businesses, including banks, transport companies, etc., extracting themselves from the Russian market”.

Sharon Brettkelly is co-host of The Detail podcast.

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