17 Nov 2023

NZ onion industry celebrates 'significant step' in exporting to China

11:24 am on 17 November 2023
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New Zealand onion exports went mainly to EU nations and Indonesia in the 2022/2023 season. Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

The onion industry is celebrating a step closer to getting New Zealand-grown onions into China.

Ninety percent of the country's onion crop is exported - earning the New Zealand economy $182 million from the 151,000 metric tonnes exported mostly to European Union nations and Indonesia during the 2022/2023 season.

However New Zealand exporters do not have access into the lucrative China market.

A New Zealand delegation has returned from another trip to Shanghai in efforts to gain access - this time with a freshly-signed memorandum of understanding with an association of Chinese importers and exporters to help enable freer two-way trade of onions between the two countries.

Industry body Onions New Zealand chief executive James Kuperus said it would be fantastic for New Zealand growers to have another market to export to.

"We came away very optimistic about the market. We estimate within five to ten years we'll be exporting $50-60 million worth of onions once we gain market access.

"So yeah, we're quite buoyant about the prospects right now, but a little bit of work to get there still."

Kuperus said it was complex trying to secure pest and disease biosecurity protocols for both markets.

"It's a significant step forward in terms of having an association on the ground helping us, but there's still the actual protocols between the two governments to be negotiated, to work through the pests and diseases in both countries - so that is a bit of a process, and one that we support as well because it's good for both countries to have strong biosecurity protocols."

He said good things take time - especially in this global economic environment.

He hoped onions would be coming through "within the next 2 to 5 years, but it could be a little bit longer".

"Both countries are just coming out of a global pandemic, so it does take time to rebound, so it could take a little bit longer but we're always optimistic."

Kuperus said New Zealand imported very small volumes of Chinese onions during New Zealand's off-season, making up hundreds of tonnes out of the domestic market of about 50,000 tonnes.

There were around 75 growers in the 2022-2023 season covering about 500 hectares across New Zealand.

Vegetable exports typically peak in March months, mostly onions and squash.

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