18 May 2017

Opposition parties demand answers over plant closure

From Morning Report, 7:21 am on 18 May 2017

The foreign owners of Silver Fern Farms should explain why they have failed to bring value to the company or country since buying a 50 percent stake last year, opposition parties say.

The company yesterday announced it planned to close it's Ashburton sheep meat plant , putting 370 jobs at risk.

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Photo: RNZ / Maja Burry

It blamed the closure on falling sheep numbers.

The government gave Chinese company Shanghai Maling the all-clear in September 2016 to buy a half-stake in the company, on the recommendation of the Overseas Investment Office (OIO).

At the time, the government said the deal would provide more opportunities for Silver Fern Farms and bring substantial benefits to New Zealand.

"We are satisfied that the investment will be of substantial and identifiable benefit to New Zealand, which is the test set out in the Act," then-Land Information Minister Louise Upston said when the deal was announced.

"The investment will put the company in a better financial position and allow it to increase its exports."

Labour MP Stuart Nash said the Ashburton plant's proposed closure belied that.

"I simply cannot see how closing a plant with a loss of 300 jobs is adding value in any way, shape or form."

Investing in New Zealand was a "privilege" that came with responsibilities, he said.

Green MP Eugenie Sage said Shanghai Maling "obviously hasn't provided what was claimed".

"This was supposed to improve the prospects of Silver Fern Farms. It was supposed to lead to more exports. Shanghai Maling has failed to deliver that to date."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said he had long warned of such a "disastrous" development.

"It's very, very, very sad to see one's prophecies come true, but you didn't have to be a rocket scientist to work out what was going on here."

Land Information Minister Mark Mitchell turned down an interview request, but in a statement said Silver Fern Farms was "ultimately responsible for its own decisions".

The company had signalled well in advance that some restructuring would be necessary and yesterday's announcement did not breach any sale conditions, he said.

Ashburton's Mayor Donna Favel is optimistic there are enough jobs locally to find employment for those who lose their jobs if the Silver Fern Farms' Fairton Meatworks closes.