30 Aug 2013

Calls for PM, officials to go to China asap to reassure market

9:50 pm on 30 August 2013

Calls are growing for the Prime Minister and Government officials to go China promptly to reassure consumers that New Zealand's dairy products are safe, rather than waiting for the outcome of a ministerial inquiry.

The Ministry for Primary Industries announced on Wednesday further tests of Fonterra whey protein concentrate had found it was free of the bacterium that can cause botulism.

John Key says he hopes to go to China as soon as a ministerial inquiry into the Fonterra contamination scare is finished, to reassure consumers there.

He says he wants to wait until he is well informed about what actually happened before he heads there.

He says practically, it would not make sense until he can confidently answer those basic questions about the scare.

Mr Key says demand for New Zealand dairy products in China is back on the rise.

The Infant Formula Exporters Association says officials should head to China now because a Government delegation would help push the message that New Zealand infant formula is safe.

Federated Farmers also agrees the Government should send officials to endorse New Zealand dairy products' safety.

A professor of agri-business at the University of Waikato, Jacqueline Rowarth, says it could be a long time before the inquiry ends and it's important that the Prime Minister goes now rather than later.

"Because he is the prime minister we get Fonterra back on the headlines of the government media in China, saying that Fonterra is here to explain and it's supported by our prime minister and this indicates that we are important in the eyes of New Zealanders as a market."

A group of New Zealand infant formula manufacturers is already on the way to China. They left on on Friday night.

Carrickmore Nutrition managing director Chris Claridge says it is important to reassure distributors as soon as possible.

He says it is critical for the Chinese market to understand there's nothing to fear but it will not be easy to reverse the adverse publicity.

He told Morning Report he will visit six cities to speak the company's distributors and retailers and to reassure them their products are free of contamination.

Mr Claridge says the New Zealand Government also needs to stand with its exporters to give the Chinese government and its people more confidence.

Businessman in Beijing warns of dire consequences

Mahon China Investment Management is based in Beijing and provides specialist advice on the dairy industry.

Managing director David Mahon says Government officials should accompany a delegation made up of dairy industry representatives.

He says if this is not done, the consequences will be dire.

Mr Mahon says it is an important strategic move and, if they don't go, Chinese consumers will continue to be sceptical about New Zealand's dairy products.