There is fear that New Zealand seafood exports could be impacted by a fresh outbreak of COVID-19 in China. The outbreak has led to a consumer salmon boycott after the new infections were reportedly traced to a chopping board of a seller of imported salmon at a market in Beijing.
"While there has been speculation about the potential source of the virus, we note the source has not yet been confirmed,” said a spokesperson for Seafood New Zealand, which represents the sector.
A consumer boycott could be more difficult to address than a government ban as there are no offical channels for addressing it directly.
“Past scares over food safety combined with the threat of COVID-19 could mean that sensitivity could be dramatically ramped up in China,” explained Rob Scollay, a trade expert and associate professor of economics at Auckland University.
"This would in turn underline the importance for New Zealand of maintaining its reputation for food safety based on high standards for food hygiene and quality. This may not of course prevent us from becoming collateral damage arising from food safety breaches by other parties.”
Mark Preece, chairman of the New Zealand Salmon Farmers Association has said he was highly confident New Zealand seafood was not a source of COVID-19 and is safe to eat.
"The New Zealand seafood industry, including aquaculture farmers, fishers and processors, implemented strict hygiene and contamination control measures designed to prevent transmission of the virus,” Preece noted.
Scollay reassured that although any sustained new outbreak of COVID-19 in China would likely spell bad news for New Zealand exports, a quick stamp out of the fresh outbreak by the Chinese government could reassure consumers and end up having positive implications for New Zealand exporters in the long term.