'Stymied' in kiwifruit export plan

Wanaka businessman Bob Robertson claims he is being stymied over a $250 million plan to grow and export kiwifruit to China.

Speaking to the Otago Daily Times on Sunday, Mr Robertson said he and kiwifruit grower and business partner Simon Dickie wanted to export a golden kiwifruit variety they call ''Liquid Gold''.

With capital raised overseas, including from China, their China New Zealand Kiwifruit Investment Company would buy North Island orchards stricken by the deadly bacteria PSA.

They would then convert the orchards to grow their ''Liquid Gold'' kiwifruit, produced from a cultivar owned by Mr Dickie and known as Y356.

Mr Robertson said the cultivar was more ''tolerant'' of PSA than other kiwifruit varieties.

However, Mr Robertson said they could not come to a suitable arrangement with Kiwifruit New Zealand and the industry's monopoly exporter, Zespri.

He believed while his company might have been able to market kiwifruit overseas through a ''collaborative agreement'' with Kiwifruit New Zealand, he considered such an agreement would be too restrictive.

''What we wanted to do was to be able to sell the fruit that we produced under our cultivar to China.''

Asked if Kiwifruit New Zealand had said no, Mr Robertson said: ''Well we weren't getting anywhere with the conversation, let's put it that way.''

Kiwifruit New Zealand chief executive Richard Proctor told the ODT he had never spoken to Mr Robertson, although he had spoken to Mr Dickie.

Mr Proctor said Mr Dickie was already exporting fruit from the Y356 cultivar under a collaborative agreement.

The company was welcome to apply for an agreement to export to China, Mr Proctor said.

Mr Robertson said the Chinese Government-owned Cofco food distribution company was willing to buy his kiwifruit at a 10% premium over prices paid to Zespri.

''Cofco provided us with a long-term order to enable us to grow and supply kiwifruit to them.''

Mr Robertson said he had been exporting cherries to Cofco for ''a couple of years'' and wanted to operate in the kiwifruit industry in a similar way.

His New Zealand Cherry Corporation controlled all aspects of the supply chain from its Cromwell orchard to its Asian markets.

It had exported $7 million of cherries in the past season but could not fill orders for a further $23 million of cherries because of a lack of supply.

He was now considering growing kiwifruit for the Chinese market in another kiwifruit-growing country.

mark.price@odt.co.nz