August 1st, 2013
Right, now that I have a functioning internet connection again, here’s what I wrote yesterday afternoon, although having to save most of it in another format did a few funny things with the formatting. Anyways, here it is:
Note: Updated below. It has been brought to my attention that comments in the article about Péizhī’s address are a bit overwrought, to say the least. I’ve also strengthened a bit of commentary on the tone of that article. See below.
Come on, New Zealand, when the Herad’s Christopher Adams writes:
New Zealand’s lucrative reputation for high-quality dairy produce continues to get a battering from the Chinese media, despite efforts by this country’s government to reassure consumers in the world’s second-biggest economy that Kiwi milk products are safe.
He’s not making stuff up. It’s not just coming out of thin air or the product of a fevered imagination. Although relying on China Daily doesn’t really cut it. That rag is published in English for a non-Chinese audience, really little more than a public diplomacy effort, just trying to push the official Chinese point of view. But still, looking at media published in Chinese for a
Chinese audience, yes, Adams is right. For example:
92 tons of imported milk powder recalled
And yes, that’s a general “substandard imported goods” story, but New Zealand certainly gets a dishonourable mention:
The list of substandard food products shows three batches of imported milk powder with excess nitrites, including 50 tons of skim milk powder imported from France by Suzhou’s Jiahe Food Industry Company Limited, 28 tons of full cream milk powder imported from New Zealand by Shanghai’s Lianghao Property Development Company Limited and 14 tons of full cream milk powder imported from New Zealand by Shanghai’s Yinglian Food and Drink Company Limited.
Alright, not much detail, and a lot of other countries are mentioned too, but this has been going on for a long time now and one would think NZ’s dairy exporters would have learned. But this article on the People’s Daily website, but attributed to Cao Ping of Qianlong Green Beijing, is a whole different storyl, focussing on New Zealand and going into a lot more detail:
“In New Zealand register a milk powder company whereever – even in a rubbish dump, put on a “Western skin” outside China, find a factory to produce for you, and you can use “imported milk powder” to storm the domestic market,” Zhang Jun (alias), who has worked in shipping a New Zealand brand of milk powder into China, told this reporter.
And that’s only the first sentence. But a couple of notes:
洋 皮 (“Western skin”): I like how this sounds identical to 羊皮 (sheepskin), both being pronounced yángpí, a nice little pun suggesting both a fake Westerner and alluding to a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And I suspect your average Chinese reader would notice.
以‘进口奶粉’之名逆袭境内市场: What on Earth to do with this? “Counterattacking”? Doesn’t quite sound right. Certainly quite a violent image, anyway.
And yes, there are plenty of other places where the translation could be cleaned up. My excuse is that my internet crapped out just as I started typing, so to check words I have to use my cellphone or a dead tree. But the point is, the very first sentence of the article is a quotation from somebody who has worked in the industry emphasising how easy it is to register a dairy business with a touch of hyperbole (rubbish dump, indeed. Well, I’m sure you can, but the dodgy-looking exporters I’ve come across tend to be registered to residential-looking addresses in Auckland), using a nice little turn of phrase equating these “fake Western brands” with wolves in sheep’s clothing, and using a rather violent image to describe the import of this milk powder. Good look for New Zealand? Nah, not the best.
And then the meat of the story. The reporter seems to have found another of these “fake Western brands”. This time it’s 培芝/Péizhī. Now, having to rely on my phone for internet access (and I hope my internet comes back on soon… ) is making things a bit more difficult than usual, but I did find a Tmall shop, a Baidu Baike article that looks like it was written by Péizhī’s marketing department, a post on Baidu Zhidao saying “I don’t know the English name of this Péizhī you’re talking about”, and a website, 培芝.百立乐/Péizhī Bǎilìlè, that seems to have been last updated in 2011, but at least has the same names as the company in the article. Fortunately, Cao has done a lot of sleuthing.
Cao says Péizhī’s website makes some rather grand claims, including having won the praise of the Prime Minister and been invited to attend the signing of the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement, as well as all the usual talk of how great its products are. But then he did a bit of sleuthing, and…. Turns out it’s a shell company registered by a couple of Chinese people and only sells its products in China. “Fake Western brand” again. For example, Cao checked on AQSIQ’s website, which lists Péizhī’s registered address as 28A Torrens Road, East Tamaki, Auckland, NewZealand, then had a look on Google Maps and thought, hmmm, that looks a lot like a residential address. I’ve had the exact same experience. Then Cao checked the register at the New Zealand Companies Office, and found that Péizhī, or Biolife New Zealand Ltd, was registered on 22 July 1999, it’s current CEO is Jiangwen Lu, it has changed address many times but is currently registered at 15 Accent Drive, East Tamaki, Auckland. This Jiangwen Lu has also registered New Zealand Dairy Global Ltd, New Zealand Dairy Global Association Ltd and Natrapure New Zealand Ltd. Also, the New Zealand register of dairy exporting brands has DBC Health Ltd registered to 15 Accent Drive, and both the DBC and Péizhī websites list their address as Building 4, 15 Accent Drive. An anonymous source familiar with the industry in New Zealand suggested to Cao that 15 Accent Drive might actually belong to a secretarial company providing registration services – Update: I should have looked on Google Maps earlier, but I have been told that 15 Accent Drive is a business park hosting several businesses, so Cao’s suspicions about the address would seem to be unfounded and this part of the article overdone. Nothing wrong with having your offices in a business park – then goes on to emphasise the differences in registering a company in New Zealand compared to China, making company registration in New Zealand sound so easy I wouldn’t be surprised to find out I’d registered several myself purely by accident, then suggests Péizhī may well be just a shell company. In the final paragraph, Cao looks at a Guangzhou company listed on the Péizhī website, Guangzhou Rubaijin Trading Company (乳白金/Rǔ Báijīn – Dairy Platinum – really?!), established on Christmas Day 2001 with 95% of the capital provided by the legal representative, one Lu Guihai. And yes, both Guihai and Jiangwen have the same surname, even in characters (卢), which, along with Guihai being one of the original stockholders when Péizhī was established, Cao takes as proof that Péizhī is a shell company run by a merchant family. Now, I wouldn’t quite go so far as to say anything is proven here, the evidence is a touch on the circumstantial side, but it’s pretty strongly suggestive that yes, this is a family business. The article ends with this statement:
…whether or not the quality of it’s [Péizhī’s] products are up to standard is worthy of doubt.
Ouch. Harsh. But fair. Plenty of similar companies have had their products fail inspection.
Now that I’ve summarised both articles, here’s what I’m thinking.
Something is seriously wrong if New Zealand made dairy products are still failing inspection. Dairy exports are a phenomenally huge export earner for New Zealand, and if New Zealand dairy products continue to take a battering in the Chinese media because they keep failing inspections (or Fonterra keeps the same crisis policy that saw it handle the DCD scandal so abysmally), then one of New Zealand’s biggest money spinners is going to be frozen out of New Zealand’s biggest export market. Chinese people don’t suffer fools playing fast and loose with their kids’ health and safety lightly. And if you think that’s a statement of the bleeding obvious, after all, don’t all parents everywhere want their kids to be happy, healthy and safe? then put it this way: You think it’s easy raising kids here in China, what with fake and substandard food, drink, medicine, what have you, constantly in the news? Imported dairy products, especially infant formula, command such a high price because Chinese brands are not trusted because nobody believes only 6 babies died in 2008’s melamine scandal and some companies were caught hiding their melamine milk powder away and selling it after they thought the dust had settled, and the melamine scandal was certainly not the first involving fake, substandard or contaminated infant formula. Nor was it the last. And if New Zealand produce continues to fail inspection then New Zealand’s reputation is going to be ruined. So far it’s proven rather resilient, but can New Zealand really afford to test these limits?
Secondly, I don’t share the view that a company registered in a Western country owned by Chinese makes it a “fake Western brand”, including when that company is owned by recent Mainland immigrants rather than the descendants of 19th century Cantonese who joined the goldrush. Update: Let me make this clear: Articles like Cao’s, and this is certainly not the first of this nature I have seen, strike me as having an undertone of racism and self-loathing. What, precisely, is wrong with Chinese people owning companies in New Zealand? Nothing. Nor do I see any problem with companies having a contractor manufacture for them under their own brand then exporting all the product rather than sell even a small portion in the country of origin. However, the fact is that companies like Péizhī, owned by Chinese, especially if they’re registered to a suspicious address (update: not the case with Péizhī, nothing wrong with a business park, but other companies I’ve seen have been registered to residential addresses, addresses shared with other companies, an address to which the company has no visible connection no matter how hard one searches, or even an address that can’t be found, again, no matter how hard one searches), with brands unknown and not sold in the country they are registered in, do get bad press coverage in China. They are seen, rightly or wrongly, as “fake Western brands”, and the quality of their products is questioned. And the more such companies are exposed in the Chinese media, the more the claims of any brand claiming to be “Made in New Zealand” are going to come under suspicion, and I’d be willing to bet that would also translate into suspicion of “legitimate” New Zealand brands.
And so it would seem to me the Ministry for Primary Industries still has a lot of work to do before New Zealand dairy exports to China are safe. New Zealand produce still failing inspection says to me there’s still a lot of work to be done in quality assurance. And the portrayal of companies like Péizhī in the Chinese press as “fake Western brands” with suspicion cast on the quality of their products says Something Must Be Done. Personally, I wouldn’t want to see an MPI requirement that registered dairy brands either sell at least some of their product in New Zealand or produce their own product, update: and I’d be especially worried if Chinese consumer demand meant that companies exporting to China could suddenly only be owned by Maori or Pakeha, that’s just fundamentally wrong. But Chinese media coverage of such companies suggests that demand does exist, although how much is media beat-up and how much is legitimate concern on the part of consumers is very hard to tell. I’d prefer it if MPI and, I suppose, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade or an industry association, proactively worked to inform Chinese parents as to which brands of infant formula really are made in New Zealand and reassure them that those brands really are top quality, both by getting plenty of information out there in clear, well-written Chinese and by ensuring that quality really is assured.
Right, now hit publish while I still have a connection…