Prime Minister John Key has pulled out of a Beijing
meet-and-greet session for New Zealand dairy companies and
their local business partners following an unexpected dinner
invitation from Chinese President Xi Jinping, leaving exporters
who have travelled to China for the event disappointed.
Key's two-day visit to China is largely aimed at repairing
the damage Fonterra's botulism false alarm caused to this
country's reputation for safe food products in our biggest
Carl Worker, New Zealand's Ambassador to China, informed
exporters via email yesterday that Key had been "extended the
additional honour of hospitality by a very senior Chinese
leader"and his arrival at Beijing's Four Seasons Hotel
tomorrow night would be "unavoidably delayed".
Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye and Trade Minister Tim Groser
would attend the meet-and-greet in Key's place, Worker said
in the email.
He said Key would attend a dinner function following the
meet-and-greet and looked forward to meeting guests at the
dinner, which the dairy export firms and their Chinese
partners have also been invited to.
A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said Key had accepted a
formal dinner invitation from Xi.
Key was already scheduled to have meetings with Xi and
China's Premier, Li Keqiang.
"This additional meeting with China's President is clearly a
huge honour and a measure of the deepening relationship with
New Zealand," the spokeswoman said. "New Zealand exporters
and their Chinese customers will be acutely aware of the
potential benefits of such a meeting."
Marco Marinkovich, founder of infant formula firm Kiwimilk
Nutrition, one of the exporters invited to the Beijing event,
said he understood the Prime Minister's meeting with Xi was
important, but the meet-and-greet with Key would have been a
valuable opportunity for companies such as his.
"We were all under the impression that here's an opportunity
to make good with our key customers, invite them along, meet
our leader to gain confidence and ask questions about the
Fonterra botch up," Marinkovich said. "This will not happen -
how do we explain this after seven months of waiting?"
He said small-scale infant formula exporters like Kiwimilk
were the "collateral damage"of the botulism scare.
"Fonterra keeps on happily selling its commodities to China
and global companies while legitimate New Zealand infant
formula brands are struggling to recapture the position they
had [before] August last year," Marinkovich said. "Now we
have some kind of make good with our distributors in China
and we get this last minute change to the agenda."
Another exporter said it was disappointing that Key had
pulled out of the meet-and-greet session.
"Meeting Groser or Kaye doesn't have the same pull at all,"
the exporter said.