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Primary Industries Minister scalds his ministry after resolving China meat dispute; says their error caused the problem
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy says the dispute involving exports of meat to China has been resolved - and he has laid the blame for the problem firmly at the feet of his own ministry.
Guy said authorities in China should begin clearing New Zealand meat exports from next week.
"Chinese authorities have agreed they will begin releasing consignments under the name of the New Zealand Food Safety Authority," he said.
"Officials are working around the clock to reissue certificates for all the meat consignments that are held up at ports or on the water. "This is positive news for farmers and exporters after what has been a frustrating time."
Guy said that the Ministry of Primary Industries had now revealed that the delay occurred because the ministry had provided certification to China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) in a format which the Chinese authority had not yet approved, and in doing so caused confusion for Chinese inspectors.
"I am very disappointed in the Ministry for Primary Industries for its mistakes in certification which have caused this delay."
Guy also said MPI officials had also "let themselves down in two further ways": by not informing Ministers of the scale and seriousness of this issue early enough, and in being too slow to provide information on exactly why this problem occurred.
"The Director-General of MPI first informed Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye and I of this issue on Tuesday 14 May. However, the size of this issue was not made clear until I began receiving calls from the meat industry on Friday 17 May.
“After making my own inquiries it became apparent the issue was bigger than what officials had been telling me so I called the officials in for an explanation on Saturday morning.
"I'm disappointed it has taken so long to get to the bottom of this problem and for the Ministry to come up with a proper explanation. This has been frustrating for myself, the public and meat exporters.
"Overall we have a strong system and a mistake like this is highly unusual. I have given the Director-General of MPI clear instructions to ensure this does not happen again," Guy said.
He said that accurately certifying exports of New Zealand agricultural goods was a core function for the Ministry "and this mistake should never have occurred".
"Officials have a responsibility to meat exporters and to all New Zealanders to get the basic details right."
Guy said he was grateful to the Chinese authorities for their willingness to work constructively with New Zealand officials to find a way through this administrative error. He was also grateful to the New Zealand meat industry for their patience.
"At the moment our number one priority is ensuring the product gets off the wharf and onto the plates of Chinese consumers as quickly as possible."