China has banned certain seafood imports from New Zealand after conducting audits at the South Pacific nation’s two seafood factories. This comes after Chinese customers became increasingly hesitant to purchase overseas food products out of fears of catching COVID-19. According to New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries, shipments have been suspended because of “issues around the interpretation of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Covid guidance, and food safety management.”
The three major product lines that have been hit by this ban include mussels, finfish, and fishmeal. The mussels are processed at a factory located in Sanford, while the other two are processed at a company called the Sealord Group. Both these facilities were subjected to video audits by Chinese authorities in late January of 2021, but the results were not announced until a couple of weeks later. This has led New Zealand to urgently seek clarification, stating that the World Health Organization (WHO) guidance had already declared it highly unlikely for the virus to spread through food or its packaging.
According to Julie Collins, the Deputy Director-General Policy & Trade at MPI, “this issue does not relate to Covid-19 transmission, but concerns matters raised following an audit of two processing premises. New Zealand has taken strong measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and does not have community transmission. This includes our strong hygiene measures put in place by food manufacturers and exporters, which adapt to each level of risk according to our Covid-19 Alert level.”
This development could harm the trade relations between the two countries, especially considering that China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner. In fact, the annual two-way trade is more than $21.58 billion, while nearly 35% of New Zealand’s seafood is exported to China. While trade between the two has not been significantly affected yet as Beijing signed an upgraded free-trade deal to grant New Zealand’s exports more access to China, relations between the two sides may get rocky if New Zealand does not receive the answers it is seeking.
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