20 Jul 2016

Govt 'group amnesia' must concern NZ - Peters

5:58 am on 20 July 2016

The Trade Minister's changing tune on a trade threat from China is the latest example of the government pretending not to know anything, Winston Peters says.

Todd McClay now acknowledges he was aware that Chinese officials had threatened New Zealand's agricultural exports if the government launched an inquiry into alleged steel dumping by China here.

Winston Peters on the bridge at Parliament.

Winston Peters: 'This is a deadly serious issue'. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr McClay had urged the public to treat a media report at the weekend, detailing threatened Chinese trade retaliation, with caution.

He said on Monday the story was "extremely hypothetical" and he knew nothing of any Chinese threats against New Zealand exports.

But yesterday, Mr McClay acknowledged he had been personally briefed on the matter by his ministry just last week when he was 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."

Prime Minister John Key, right, and Trade Minister Todd McClay in Indonesia.

Prime Minister John Key, right, and Trade Minister Todd McClay in Indonesia. Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

Prime Minister John Key also denied knowing anything about Chinese trade threats when he was asked about it on Monday.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said it was just the latest example where Mr Key and his ministers pretend they know nothing.

The government's 'Sergeant Schultz' behaviour and refusal to be upfront with the public was wearing thin, he said.

"It's the group amnesia which has got to concern the New Zealand voter, and the New Zealand people and the New Zealand exporters.

"This is a deadly serious issue, and when you have the kind of heavy-handedness that's coming from China to this country and their exports of steel to it, one has got to be seriously naive to think the government of the day and senior officials did not know."

Labour's finance spokesperson Grant Robertson said the government's position on the matter had gone from bizarre to farcical.

"If I was told that our largest export market was considering taking retaliatory action against New Zealand I would remember that, I would be deeply worried about it, and I would get on the phone to the prime minister and others to begin coordinating our response," Mr Robertson said.

"I just find it ridiculous that Todd McClay has just suddenly recalled that now, and it really does call into question whether the government is in control of this situation at all."

Mr Key said he took the Chinese at their word that they were not planning retaliation.

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