Zespri denies kiwifruit seized in China

images (4) Kiwifruit export marketer Zespri has denied Chinese reports that New Zealand kiwifruit has been seized by Shanghai Customs following the arrest of one of its import agents for smuggling.

A Zespri spokesman said no kiwifruit had been impounded, despite Chinese media reports that 30,000 tonnes of fruit had been seized.

The company was working with Chinese officials following the Chinese agent’s June arrest on suspicion of failing to pay customs duties, he said.

Chinese media have reported that the middle-aged agent, one of four Zespri uses in Shanghai, was arrested for evading around US$9.4 million (NZ$11 million) worth of import duties since 2007 using forged documents. Another report said the agent had under-invoiced imported kiwifruit.

The reports said the agent, chairman of importer-distributor Shanghai Neuhof Trade Co. had been held by Chinese authorities since June 22.

Chinese Central Television said the seizure had the highest value of any fruit import smuggling case ever in China.

Zespri said it was aware that one of the independent importers it used in China had been arrested and was being investigated for failing to pay duties.

Zespri kiwifruit were among several product groups imported by the agent, the spokesman said.

“Zespri is a witness in the investigation and is working with Chinese customs authorities to gain a full understanding of the situation.”

The company would be watching the market for any adverse impact as a result of the arrest.

A Te Puke kiwifruit grower Chris Dunn, who was due to visit China this week on other business, said he was sceptical about Zespri’s denial.

Dunn said growers’ heard of the arrest of a Chinese import agent four weeks ago but had not been able to get a clear answer from Zespri.

“If it’s bad news, just give it to us,” was Dunn’s message to Zespri.

The member of the Independent Kiwifruit Growers Association, and a grower of red kiwifruit being commercialised by vocal Zespri monopoly challenger Turners and Growers, said he would be talking to fruit import agents while checking out new kiwifruit varieties in Chengdu, China this week.

Zespri’s total export revenue last year was more than NZ$1.5 billion. The company is NZ’s sole exporter of kiwifruit beyond Australia said its 2011 selling season to China remained on track.

Zespri was expected to sell 10 million trays of fruit to China this year.

No further comment from Zespri was available.


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