Chinese premier Li Qiang departs for Australia after Fonterra visit

By Liu Chen of RNZ

Chinese premier Li Qiang has visited Fonterra's headquarters in Auckland before departing for Australia on Saturday.

Li, the highest-ranking Chinese official visiting New Zealand in seven years, was in the country for three days.

He was shown Fonterra's food service and ingredient products, as well as milking systems, robotics and genetic innovations from other companies.

Fonterra chief executive Miles Hurrell said the company had built a strong relationship with its partners in China over the years.

"China's economic growth has gone hand in hand with increasing demand for our high-quality dairy ingredients and growth of our foodservice business in China," Hurrell said.

"Underpinning Fonterra and our customers' shared successes is the strong relationship between our two countries."

The company's Greater China region chief executive, Teh-han Chow, said the Chinese premier's visit was "wonderful" and gave them a chance to talk about the close business relationship between New Zealand and China.

"There is a recognition of the role that Fonterra played in terms of the bilateral trade between New Zealand and China," Chow said.

"For us, it's very strong recognition, it's a really good opportunity to celebrate some of the successes that the China-New Zealand relationship has brought forward to New Zealand industry as well."

Fonterra continued to invest in innovation in China's diary sector, with a sixth application centre opening in Wuhan this year, Hurrell said.

Dozens of supporters turned up to Fonterra's headquarters in central Auckland to greet Li, many of whom have been following Li's visits in Auckland.

One woman, Xiaoyan Zhu, said she and many others were standing in the rain yesterday, when Li visited the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research and then the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

"From seven in the morning to 10 at night, we stood in the rain... We are all patriotic. I feel very excited there is people visiting from my motherland. When I saw the premier's car coming yesterday, I just wanted to cry," Zhu said.

"We overseas Chinese miss our country and our great China. We're very happy to see that our motherland is so prosperous and strong now. I have not visited China for five, six years. It's like expecting some visiting family, and we feel as happy as if we seeing our family members."

Aucklander Kevin McCready was walking past the Fonterra headquarters when he noticed a group of supporters and decided to stay and watch.

"I'm here because I don't support human rights abuses in any country... I think in China, human right abuses are particularly bad, so I object to us cosying up in this manner and putting milk ahead of human rights. I don't think this right," he said.

Minister for Agriculture and Trade Todd McClay said he was optimistic for the future of New Zealand's multi-billion dollar dairy exports to China, despite a 5 percent drop in dairy export value to China over the past two years.

Li's visit to Fonterra was "very positive", McClay said.

"Fonterra is an important part of the Chinese food and supply chain. A lot of our dairy products go to China. I think it was clear that there was a real appreciation on the part of the premier of China and the delegation just about how much that relationship has grown."

Li will be heading to Malaysia after visiting Australia.