More than 18 months after two seafood companies were blocked from exporting some product to China, there remains no resolution and, for one, no timeframe in sight 

Chinese authorities continue to block imports from two New Zealand seafood factories just over 18 months after the suspension began. 

In January a Sanford facility in Havelock that processes mussels and a Sealord factory in Nelson that processes finfish and fishmeal underwent live video audits by Chinese customs. 

Concerns around Covid-19 health and safety protocols were cited by the foreign authorities and exports to China were suspended immediately.  

Sealord chief executive Doug Paulin said the impact had been significant. “The financial impact to our business has been significant, around $6 million in total to date.” 

“We’re continuing to work with Ministry for Primary Industries officials, as we work to meet the various requirements as requested. 

“Our understanding is that delays are associated with Covid-19 and the complexities involved in resolving technical requirements by authorities.” 

There is limited evidence to suggest Covid-19 can be transmitted through cold chain facilities in an international supply chain. 

Last year Paulin told Newsroom things were “slow-going,” with the matter relatively low on China’s list of priorities. 

But still, there’s no timeframe for a resolution in sight with MPI Market Access director Steve Ainsworth simply saying reinstatement of trade remained a key priority at New Zealand’s end.  

“MPI staff continue to engage with their counterparts in China and will continue to work with the companies toward reinstatement of trade for those facilities.” 

He said MPI had a number of engagements with Chinese authorities over that past 18 months, with the last being on June 22. 

“This engagement has been constructive. This has included MPI providing information on actions taken by the two premises to address the findings of the virtual audits conducted by the Chinese authorities.  

“We’re not able to provide further information on these actions for commercial reasons.” 

Sanford acting chief operating officer Peter Young said the impact at this point was manageable.

“We are working very hard to get back into the Chinese market from our Havelock mussel plant.”

Chinese trade expert Stephen Jacobi said the suspension, and the considerable delay to resolving it, should serve as a warning to other exporters.  

“You really would want to avoid it. That is absolutely right. 

“I do feel very sorry for those particular plants that have been pinged who were caught up very early in the piece as well… so I mean, a very unfortunate series of events.” 

He said while China remained extremely risk-averse when it came to Covid-19, resolving this problem would be difficult.  

“It’s a combination of an excessive caution on the part of the Chinese and their risk-averse nature is making it quite hard to get resolved.” 

That included Chinese authorities themselves working under strict protocols as China continued to try and keep the virus at bay domestically. 

“Their procedures are of course, all subject to having to be done under Covid conditions, you know, the lockdowns that are still going on in China, etc, all these things have to be done virtually and not in person.” 

Jacobi said other sectors and factories in New Zealand were continuing with virtual audits and inspections from China without issue. 

“Other inspections have been carried out in other sectors since then, and similar problems haven’t been found. That’s why we would tend to suggest this isn’t a relationship thing. It’s more to do with specific issues.” 

“I think we should just hesitate to draw too many broader conclusions.” 

Emma Hatton is a business reporter based in Wellington.

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