2 Aug 2013

Ministry admits blame for meat hold-up

10:25 am on 2 August 2013

The Ministry for Primary Industries' acting director-general admits fundamental mistakes were made that led to $100 million worth of New Zealand meat getting stuck on docks in China.

The ministry on Thursday released its partly censored review into how containers of frozen meat were stranded for weeks in April and May this year when Chinese officials became confused about a name change.

Export certificates for companies to send meat to China were changed on 1 March this year to recognise that the former Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) is now known as the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). It also includes the New Zealand Food Safety Authority and the Ministry of Fisheries.

But customs officials in China refused to clear the deliveries of New Zealand beef and lamb due to confusion over the name change on documentation.

The report reveals a letter about the name change was not forwarded on to Chinese authorities.

MPI acting director-general Scott Gallacher acknowledged the review and said understaffing and under-resourcing were to blame in part.

However, he told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme it highlighted that the ministry did not deal with the mistakes fast enough.

"The review has highlighted as we did not deal with those mistakes effectively, at various times along the way judgement calls were getting made. And in the cold hard light of day, of reflecting back onto that MPI were not making the right judgements at the right time."

The review says MPI's market access team didn't properly notify the Chinese of when the name change would happen. When the meat became held up, ministers were not briefed soon enough.

Mr Gallacher said the ministry would lift its presence in China with more officials and provide more staff training.

He said the ministry would increase the number of staff in its market access team from eight to 16 and it would invest in a stronger presence within China.

Meat industry to keep close eye on MPI

Meat Industry Association chief executive Tim Ritchie says it's good to see MPI has recognised the areas where the system failed and intends to fix them, but is concerned about the time it could take.

He says he would hope the remedial steps mentioned take place as soon as possible, and would welcome any move to work with industry on the issues.

Labour Party primary industries spokesperson Damien O'Connor, says the review shows a systematic failure at MPI, with staff failing to alert the relevant ministers when the problem came to light.

He blames the Government for failing to put the resources into China to keep pace with the growth in trade there.