NZ officials fluffed timing, causing stalled meat in China

Ministry accepts blame for mishandling of export certificate changes and sluggishness in alerting more senior officials and ministers.

New Zealand meat exports ended up stalled on Chinese wharves and further shipments were forced to turn back after officials fluffed the name change on export certificates after the creation of the Ministry for Primary Industries, a review has found.

The ministry has accepted blame for its mishandling of the changes and sluggishness in alerting more senior officials and ministers, leaving them to face questions from the media they could not adequately answer.

"Mistakes were made at various levels and at various times," acting MPI director-general Scott Gallacher told reporters in Wellington at the release of the report. "We did not deal with them effectively or quickly enough."

Some $100 million of meat was held up in May and June as a result of the switch to Ministry for Primary Industries from Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

The name change was implemented on March 1, before the new certificates had been approved by officials at China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ).

The report shows officials only advised AQSIQ on February 6, meaning New Zealand did not give China the full one-month notice it requires before the change. In any event, AQSIQ was not happy with mock-ups of the new certificates and as late as February 19 were asking for changes.

Ministers only found out about the stalled meat on May 14, a full two weeks after meat companies first advised that certificates were being rejected.

The report shows that prior to the March 1 name change a New Zealand official in China had flagged problems meeting that date on a number of occasions, only to be told by MPI officials in Wellington that it was "set in stone".

But it also shows a series of missteps including a conversation between that official and the ministry on February 19 where the parties took away different understandings of what certificates were to be used from March 1, given the Chinese objections.

Officials also misjudged the situation as being an everyday paperwork glitch of which they dealt with many around the world in the normal course of their business. They had expected it to be cleared up "within a few days" and "through the usual channels".

Chinese officials also were not available at key times during the saga, which slowed the New Zealand officials' response. Still, the MPI does not apportion any blame to China or to any other government agencies in the report, Mr Gallacher says.

As a result of the review, MPI is doubling staff in its Wellington-based market access team to 16 from eight, having noted that the team had not seen the need to escalate the situation early on and had since commented that they would behave in the same way again.

The ministry will also develop a strategy for China, develop a new issues management system in collaboration with the meat industry and improve processes to identify and manage risks to trade. They are among 25 management actions MPI says it is making in response to the review.

(BusinessDesk)

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