New Zealand Seeks Clarification After China Blocks Some Seafood

New Zealand said it is urgently seeking clarification from Chinese authorities after Beijing suspended imports from two of its seafood factories.

Shipments from a Sanford Ltd. facility that processes mussels and a Sealord Group fish processing plant have been suspended due to “issues around the interpretation of the World Health Organization’s Covid guidance, and food safety management,” the Ministry for Primary Industries said on Wednesday. The move followed live video audits by Chinese Customs at both premises in late January, it said.

Chinese shoppers are growing reluctant to buy overseas food products after Covid-19 infections were reported among people handling such items. Seafood imports by China tumbled 12.5% last year, including a plunge of 32% in December from a year ago.

Consumer distrust is being fueled at least partly by statements from the government, which has taken increasingly drastic steps to curb the risk of the virus spreading via food imports even though most international health authorities have downplayed the likelihood of such transmission.

The New Zealand ministry said the seafood 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,” Julie Collins, deputy director-general policy and trade at the ministry, said in an emailed statement. “It’s important to note that the WHO’s guidance says it’s highly unlikely that Covid-19 can spread by food or food packaging.”

China, New Zealand’s largest export market, bought more than NZ$600 million ($434 million) of seafood from it in 2020.

There’s no suggestion that the seafood move is due to diplomatic tensions. While Beijing has used trade sanctions in its diplomatic spat with Australia, New Zealand has so far managed to keep relations with China cordial.

Sanford said it doesn’t anticipate a material impact on operations or sales from the current suspension of exports from its Havelock plant to China.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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