China business leader to PM: more repair work needed over food safety

New Zealand still has a lot of explaining to do over food safety in the wake of last year's false botulism scare, a Chinese business leader says.

Ning “Frank” Gaoning, chairman of Fortune 500 company China National Cereals, Oils, and Foodstuff Corporation (COFCO), says there are still concerns over New Zealand’s food safety amongst Chinese consumers.

“But the concerns are confused – not many understand what is happening,” he said in response to NBR ONLINE’s questions at a press conference this afternoon for Apec’s business advisory council, which he chairs.

“A lot of PR work should be done.

“I talked to Fonterra and I talked to Prime Minister [John Key] too, because as an importer we want to see a stable, high-quality, good image type of company supply us.

“I know it’s not a major issue but a lot of explanation should be done.”

One of the Apec business council meeting’s key agendas was food security.

State-owned COFCO is China’s largest agricultural trading and processing company, with revenues of more than $US28 billion in 2012.

COFCO part-owns China Mengniu Dairy, China’s largest seller of liquid milk, the majority-owner of Yashili International Holdings, which is spending $212 million developing a milk processing plant at Pokeno, in Waikato.

Potential investors
A high-powered Chinese business delegation – including DHgate founder Diane Wang and representatives of food, agriculture and infrastructure firms – visited Auckland during the business advisory council’s three-day meeting in Auckland.

New Zealand council representative Tony Nowell, who is chairman of Crown research institute Scion, says the delegation met Mr Key, Trade Minister Tim Groser and Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye – and took visits to Fonterra’s Te Rapa plant, the Waterview tunnel site and Villa Maria Estate winery.

Mr Ning says a COFCO subsidiary buys almost 100% of its ingredients for infant formula powder from Fonterra and he visited Fonterra’s facility at Takanini.

“The products I saw in their plant are exactly the same I saw in the Chinese supermarket.”

This is an issue for Chinese consumers, who prefer to be sold identical products to those in offshore markets rather than those made purely for export.

Mr Nowell referred to the group as “potential investors,” while Mr Ning says the trip is likely to lead to more business investment or trading with New Zealand.

At a function on Thursday night, Dame Jenny Shipley remarked to Mr Nowell she had not seen such a high level of interaction between New Zealand and Chinese companies before.

“That’s success as far as I’m concerned,” Mr Nowell says.

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