One might have heard of the build up of New Zealand meat products waiting to gain access to China. Apparently we are talking about one ton for every man, woman and child in Ashburton (15,000 people)being stuck while authorities haggle over a paper work issue that – depending on who you believe – was allegedly caused by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture changing its name to the Ministry of Primary Industries. The New Zealand meat industry which exported $278 million worth of sheep meat to China alone in 2011-12, is right to be sounding the alarm on the issue. But is the Government listening?
The Minister of Primary Industries, Nathan Guy not surprisingly says that it is listening and trying to reach a resolution. Also barely surprisingly is the Labour Party saying that there is a deafening level of silence and that it knows something. Perhaps it is listening but the complete inability of anyone to get straight answers out of the Ministers who should be talking to the Chinese authorities about what is happening and the potential ramifications if an agreeable solution is not found soon, is glaring. It raises an unwelcome question in New Zealand about how welcome New Zealand meat products without any tariffs being applied by the Chinese authorities really are?
I would not want to hear one day that alternative arrangements need to be made for meat that was – or so New Zealand authorities and the exporters clearly thought – was heading to China. It would also send our trading partners bad signals reading meat exports and perhaps make them rethink whether or not they want our meat. The Government at the end of the day, if it does not want an inquiry into our meat exports and whether they knew something was wrong but failed to act, presumably wants a satisfactory outcome too. So why is it not moving heaven and earth to get to the bottom of the issue?
On the other hand, maybe this is not a problem caused by the New Zealand Government, but one caused by the People’s Republic of China. Understanding China and how it functions appears to have been a surprisingly low priority for the New Zealand Government. But there has always been a frustrating wall of secrecy shrouding many aspects of Chinese economics, politics, society and the way these three elements interact. Whereas New Zealand for the most part is a fairly transparent nation and largely deserves its high rating with organisations like Transparency International, China must at times seem like this great foggy patch where few know the Chinese decision making process.
New Zealand signed a Free Trade Agreement with China in 2008. Opponents of the F.T.A. and its implications for New Zealand wondered at the time whether China would do all that it committed to in the agreement.
Fortunately for the meat sitting on Chinese docks, in temperature regulated sheds it can be made to last for months. But if the Government fails to secure a guaranteed path of entry to the markets, the risk is that the products may have to be shipped to somewhere else, that a whole chain of people from the stevedores on the wharf to the shop assistants might be deprived of the income resulting from the successful distribution and sale of the meat. Could the meat industry afford that sort of hit? It says not it could not.