Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says huge market for New Zealand in China on final day of trip

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says New Zealand's largest ever trade delegation to China has been "knocking on open doors".

Hipkins has headed the trade delegation to China and has had successful meetings with top-ranking politicians, including Chinese President Xi Jingping.

He said today it had been a great trip, and he had been heartened by the positive reaction business leaders in the delegation had received.

"There is a huge market here for New Zealand products and services and so I think for me one of the big insights was the door is wide open."

Hipkins said he'd had the opportunity today to see just how thriving the relationship between New Zealand and China was, "particularly building on a very successful event last night which had hundreds of local and New Zealand businesspeople able to get together".

The relationship with China was "in good heart", he said.

He said he had navigated the relationship with China in the same way New Zealand always had, "to be open, to be candid, to be transparent and to be consistent in our position".

Visa issues

Hipkins said the government had been well aware of difficulties with visas for a long time.

"We knew it was going to be a bit of a bumpy road when we reopened the border and had this huge backlog to work our way through - particularly in areas like international student visas for example, which can be quite time consuming to process because there's a lot more in them.

"The timeliness around international student visa applications is looking pretty good, the timeliness around business visas is improving, the timeliness around visitor visas remains a challenging area for us because there's a high volume of them and obviously the frequency with which they are flooding in continues to put the system under pressure."

He said things like identity verification were causing delays, but "certainly we're working hard to try and speed that up".

A 'very positive vibe'

Sealord chairperson Jamie Tuuta, the head of the business delegation, said there had been a "very positive vibe".

"It's been wonderful to be part of the delegation, really promoting Aotearoa New Zealand as one and I think it's been a real success."

He said the fact the prime minister had access to the top three politicians in China had been very important for business in China and economic relationships.

"I think it really just demonstrates the longstanding relationship that New Zealand has had with China."

He said New Zealanders probably did not understand the level of coverage the trip has brought to the Chinese people in the media and social media, and said the large size of the delegation has been very beneficial.

Tuuta said the feedback from everyone on the trip is that it has been "a great success and the nature of the conversations that have been had are warm and constructive, are such where actually it's positioned us well as a country and as businesses to grow trade and to work constructively with our customers and market".

He said looking at other countries doing business in China, New Zealand businesses did punch above their weight.

Issues at home

Today's briefing came in the wake of another overseas trip marred by domestic controversies affecting Cabinet ministers for the prime minister.

On Thursday, Education Minister Jan Tinetti was forced to apologise after the Privileges Committee found she had misled parliament by failing to correct statements to the House. However, she was not found guilty of contempt of Parliament because it was not deliberate. The National Party has questioned her competence.

As well, Conservation Minister Kiri Allan has been forced to defend her working relationships with her office staff after reports of a DOC staff member ending a secondment to her office early, because working relationships were "not running as smoothly" as they might.

Hipkins said today the allegations against Allan had not been raised formally through the system, related to some time ago when he was not prime minister, and the feedback from senior public servants was that the matters were resolved at the time.

He said he had been clear with ministers that he expected them to be cordial and treat public servants with respect.

"I expect them to set high standards of the New Zealand public service, and I absolutely expect them to make sure those high standards are achieved, but that doesn't mean that relationships can't be characterised by respect, I believe that they can be."

He said it was very difficult to form judgements based on anonymous complaints.

"There's no ability to investigate them or to look at the facts behind them so therefore I have to work on the feedback that I've had from the chief executive level."

He said executives of government departments are the appropriate people for handling personnel matters, to raise concerns with ministers - and if there are serious concerns to take those further to the prime minister.

"That's in the job description. If not with the prime minister then either with the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet or with the Public Service Commissioner. In this case neither of those things has happened."

He said after the Debbie Francis report there were now proper processes to deal with problems when they arise.

"If a public servant has a bad interaction with a minister for example, that's not necessarily evidence of bullying, it could be evidence of the fact that someone's made a mistake and there is actually a problem that a minister has complained about and it's a legitimate complaint for them to have made."