19 Jul 2016

McClay admits he was aware of China talks

9:54 pm on 19 July 2016

Trade Minister Todd McClay now says he was made aware that Chinese officials had approached Zespri about trade retaliation.

Zespri Kiwifruit is loaded onto the Atlantic Erica at the Port of Tauranga.

Photo: Supplied

The kiwifruit exporter has confirmed it was approached by officials in China two weeks ago and told of discussions about New Zealand imports.

At this stage, the company hasn't given further details about what the officials said, but

RNZ News understands they warned Zespri there could be retaliation if the New Zealand government investigated claims of China dumping steel in this country.

After refusing to comment yesterday, Zespri today confirmed it told the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade about the Chinese approach - saying it was approached by an "industry body".

It is refusing to confirm multiple reports that the threats were from China's Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Trade Policy (Mofcom).

RNZ News understands the threats were made to Zespri's representative in China, Matt Crawford.

no caption

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr McClay has previously said he only became aware of the matter following media reports on Sunday.

But speaking today at a trade summit in Indonesia, Mr McClay said he had remembered he was actually informed of the matter last week in China.

"I've checked overnight into when I was in China, I did receive information from the embassy that an industry body had made contact with a New Zealand company in China - raising some concerns," Mr McClay said.

"Our embassy has subsequently checked this with Mofcom, which is the Chinese equivalent of the Chinese Ministry of Trade - they've said they have no knowledge of it, and have denied it."

Just yesterday, Mr McClay had described the reports as hypothetical.

"This is extremely hypothetical, we have a newspaper story that says there could be some form of sanction but there's no investigation being announced in New Zealand.

"Some of the companies involved have said that they haven't been approached and we also have the Chinese ambassador and embassy saying they're not aware of it either... We need to be extremely careful not to get ahead of ourselves," he said.

Prime Minister John Key also said today the Chinese were adamant they were not planning on targetting any New Zealand exports.

"Neither in Beijing nor in Wellington is there any indication from the Chinese authorities that there is an issue that would see them have retaliatory action, so the official line from the Chinese, and we accept that, is there is nothing to see here."

The other big exporter to China, Fonterra, said there had been unsubstantiated rumours about its own involvement in the case.

The company said it has not received any threats, has not been approached by the Chinese government, and does not have any information related to what it calls rumours and speculation.