15 Aug 2013

Work needs to be done on Russian relations - ex diplomat

9:10 pm on 15 August 2013

A trade advisor says the New Zealand Government has some work to do to repair and improve the relationship with Russia following the damage done by the Fonterra botulism scare.

Russia, along with Kazakhstan and Belarus, has suspended imports of Fonterra dairy products or ingredients from most of its facilities licenced to export there.

That's despite Fonterra's assurance that it has supplied none of the contaminated whey protein concentrate, or products containing it, to those markets.

The reaction from those three countries is the toughest market response so far and goes beyond China's action, which is restricted to stopping imports of Fonterra whey protein concentrate and base powder.

Stuart Prior is a former ambassador to Moscow who runs a consultancy connecting businesses with that part of the world. He's also honorary consul for Belarus.

He says the Russian response is the result of poor communication and lack of connection with the authorities there.

He says as a large exporter of food it was understandable Russia took a conservative position on food safety, particularly if the authorities had no official up-to-date information and were relying on media reports.

"We have to make sure we're invested properly in channels of communication, particularly at a government-to-government level."

Mr Prior says there's also sensitivity in Russia about the impact a proposed trade agreement with New Zealand will have on local producers.