The tiny fruit has become the epicentre of a battle between New Zealand and its trade partner, China
Kiwi business is New Zealand’s backbone when it comes to horticultural export in the country. The tiny fruit, however, has become the epicentre of a battle between New Zealand and its trade partner, China. It all started when a Kiwi grower smuggled to China a Kiwi strain endemic to New Zealand back in 2010.
That triggered thousands of hectares of illegal kiwi orchards in the country, reported The Guardian. Read more: The kiwi route to good health New Zealand has been enmeshed in conflict with China over protecting its Kiwi intellectual property rights since then.
Zespri, which is a mega kiwi cooperative in New Zealand, had operating revenues of NZ$3.9billion in 2020, according to The Guardian. The ‘Sungold’ variety (Gold3 strain) of kiwis are especially loved in the country as they pulled the business back from a downward spiral followed by PSA disease that ruined other kiwi varieties – a downward spiral that had cost the business about NZ$900 million.
However, trouble hit the ceiling in 2016 when Sungold was discovered by Zespri private investigators to be sprouting in China. The smuggling was found to be the doing of a business man, Haoyu Gao, who had a kiwi orchard in Opotiki in New Zealand. A court case ended up with the business man losing and being asked to pay NZ$14 million for damages.
That was not enough to deter China’s Gold3 cultivation. Illegal Sungold cultivation doubled to more than 5,200 hectares between 2019 and 2021, found a Zespri report. Curious revelations point out that the Kiwi was originally found in China and brought to New Zealand in 1904, and by the 50s the latter became major exporters of the fruit that thrived in the new local climate.
The fruit even derived its name from the iconic bird found in its new habitat that shared similar brown, fuzzy features. In today’s kiwi market, a frustrated Zespri has put forward a proposal for Kiwi growers – a ‘yearlong trial of buying up and marketing counterfeit kiwifruit grown in China under the Zespri brand’, reports The Guardian.
The proposal is currently under consideration of buyers who will take a decision in the coming week. Zespri’s proposal “would suggest that maybe the horse has bolted,” commented Jason Young, associate professor, Victoria University and director of the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre.
“The Zespri question is really one of what happens if you lose control of your intellectual property in the Chinese market?” What complicated things further is that the two countries are trade partners.
“This is really a test for the relationship,” Dr Hongzhi Gao, associate professor, Victoria University’s international business school with a background in provincial government in China, told The Guardian. “There’s also an opportunity here, for the New Zealand government to make a very clear case to Chinese central government.”