Dairy plant epitomizes healthy China-New Zealand relations
New Zealand conjures up images of massive grasslands where cattle graze in a leisurely stroll.
True. Dairy is the country's biggest export earner – worth approximately US$12 billion last year. And China, as the country's top trade partner, receives over one third of its dairy products.
Dairy is indeed a powerful engine fuelling bilateral ties, and this is epitomized by Yashili New Zealand Dairy Co Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Yashili International Holdings Ltd and China Mengniu Dairy Co Ltd.
The state-of-the-art infant formula plant is tucked away in the meadows in New Zealand's Waikato region which is hailed as one of the most sought-after places for the dairy industry. Among a list of industry giants from all over the world, the plant has found a place far away from its homeland.
Put into use at the end of 2015, it features world-class processing equipment such as a 41-meter-high spray drying tower – the tallest in New Zealand. Now, the plant can produce nearly 80,000 tons of products every year.
"Yes, I knew all about it. I knew exactly where it was and I knew who it was," Ben Moore, the plant's new milk supply manager, said.
He has been involved with the dairy industry for over 10 years before joining the factory in late November.
"It is a very good employer of people. So basically, local people really welcome this. Hey, look, we employ 160 people at the plant. So that's 160 jobs in the local area," he told Shanghai Daily.
"You might get the odd New Zealand dairy farmer who doesn't like the idea of a Chinese processor being in New Zealand. But at the end of the day, the Chinese population is right up there in the top population of the world. So why not have a Chinese milk processor here in New Zealand to help spread the good word.
"To me, it doesn't matter whether you are from England, China, New Zealand. If you're in New Zealand to produce New Zealand milk then you're benefiting New Zealand as a whole."
As Moore said the plant has about 160 workers from 28 countries and regions. Less than 20 percent are Chinese. Comparing it to a mini-sized "United Nations," managing director David Song said: "People from all over the world are helping promote cultural and economic exchanges."
Finance accountant David Zhang agrees. "After work, we dine out together. We would choose to have Chinese food during team-building sessions. On traditional Chinese holidays, foreign workers join us in eating dumplings, zongzi (traditional glutinous rice dumplings with different fillings) and other Chinese food. And we teach them Chinese languages."
Moore, in fact, has integrated well with his new colleagues. Though he has just joined the plant, he already knows some simple Mandarin words like 谢谢 (thanks) and 你好 (hello). What's more, he's trying to learn more about Chinese-style business.
"I'm actually reading a book at the moment called 'Chinese Etiquette and Ethics in Business.' I'm about 1/3rd of the way through, but it's very interesting," he observed.
"We blend as well as milk and water at the plant," Song said, noting that the role of the plant is kind of the first stone of a bridge between China and New Zealand.
For its important role, Song, representing the plant, attended a reception held in Auckland in early December to celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
It was definitely one of the highest-level bilateral events held in New Zealand over the past three years because many such events had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he noted, calling the 50 years of diplomatic ties a milestone.
"Tēna koutou, tēna koutou, tēna tatou katoa. Da jia hao," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern opened her speech with indigenous Maori language and Mandarin. "Rather I thought I would touch on the three themes that were chosen by New Zealand to mark our anniversary: tangata/people, aorangi/planet and tōnuitanga/prosperity."
Incidentally, Yashili New Zealand Dairy has been making contributions to local people, environment and prosperity. Besides employment, the plant also cares for the local environment and community.
Allan Sanson, mayor of Waikato, spoke highly of the plant's efforts. What it has done makes people feel that it has greatly integrated into Waikato and locals consider it as a landmark, he said.
According to Song, the plant sponsors a local primary school, a rugby team and a netball team as well as holds a series of fundraising events. Currently on its agenda is a project to work with the indigenous Maori people to protect local water, soil and plants and plans to invest in a local hospital and park.
Ardern noted at the reception event that New Zealand's relationship with China is complex and evolving. "New Zealand society today is greatly enriched by our diverse New Zealand Chinese communities."
She added: "The relationship with China makes an important contribution to New Zealand's prosperity. Our trade and economic links have proven resilient, despite the challenges of COVID. Our two-way trade totaled over US$38 billion in the year to June 2022. We saw the fruits of this in the upgrade of our free trade agreement, which was finalized and brought into force this year."
In fact, Yashili New Zealand is a major beneficiary of the China-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement that came into force on October 1, 2008. And the upgraded version is set to bring more opportunities, Song said.
"It's definitely worth celebrating! Look at all we've accomplished together," Moore pointed out.
"It would make a big difference to the whole of New Zealand and the plant. We can get some more of our scrumptious value-added products from New Zealand into China. I think the current relationship is a good one and I think it can only get better from here on out."