Bringing it all back home - Zespri shares kiwifruit pointers with Chinese growers. This video was first published in 2018.
Zespri's proposed deal to buy and market counterfeit golden kiwifruit grown in China has been met with trepidation within the industry, but a growers group says it might “stop the flow” of illicit fruit.
▲sungold g3 kiwifruit vine
▲sungold g3 Kiwifruit packaging
The kiwifruit giant has signed the beginnings of a commercial deal with a state-owned Chinese firm, in a bid to capture 4000ha of unlicensed SunGold kiwifruit being grown in China that threatens the company’s stake in the market.
The deal would have Zespri buy and market the counterfeit fruit, and China’s government would help the company enforce its rights over SunGold, or G3 – an arrangement touted as a “win-win”.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) said the trial of a commercial arrangement with the Chinese growers was crucial to gain the Chinese government’s support in enforcing Zespri's plant variety rights.
Zespri’s SunGold golden kiwifruit is a popular variety in both New Zealand and China.
▲red kiwi tree
“Growers are, generally speaking, of the view that we need to do what we can to stop the flow [of counterfeit fruit], and if that means having this small scale trial with China to see how that might work ... we need to test that,” NZKGI chief executive Nikki Johnson said.
▲golden g3 kiwifruit
NZKGI was yet to hear directly from growers about the project, and would do so at a meeting this week, Johnson said.
She had heard some concern that Zespri would be handing information and technology for SunGold production over to Chinese firms, but said “whether that's a great risk in China than it is in other markets, I'm just not sure”.
▲zespri kiwifruit Import and export
“I don't think they're [Zespri] about to open the door and hand over everything in year one.”
▲golden kiwi tree
Kiwifruit grower and Tauranga-based lawyer Marcus Wilkins said growers should be demanding more advice about Zespri’s China project, and a broader investigation was needed.
Some 4000ha of unlicensed SunGold kiwifruit is being grown in China, after the variety was stolen from Zespri. It’s broadly expected the illicit planting of SunGold will only expand.
▲Red heart kiwi
“There should be a thorough, independent, investigation into how this has arisen and whether the actions that are proposed are actually going to protect the taxpayers’ investment in this variety.”
He said there may be “rationale” to attempting to buy the counterfeit fruit, however Zespri should be taking more steps to enforce intellectual property rights in China’s courts.
“At the moment it's all just saying, 'Well this is what we're doing, aren't we clever’ … Where's the second opinion? There is never a second opinion in this industry.”
Wilkins said Zespri had previously run into trouble when illicit plantings of Hort16A, another gold variety, appeared in China in the early 2000s.
“History teaches that when you deal with totalitarian states, you need to be careful.”
Seeka chief executive Michael Franks said he doubted Zespri would have success enforcing its plant variety rights in China.
▲golden kiwi growing zone
Michael Franks, chief executive of fruit grower and supplier Seeka, said Zespri had not yet made clear its plan, and it would struggle to enforce its plant variety rights (PVR) in China.
▲golden kiwifruit vine
“The land that the G3 is grafted onto is owned by the provincial governments ... What's the motivation for them to give PVR protection when they've probably facilitated its expansion?” Franks said.
▲golden kiwi tree
Franks said the success of SunGold relied on its post-harvest intellectual property, including the colour and temperature management.
“There might be an angle for Zespri in that, but honestly, we don't know much about it … I just don't truly think that's possible.
“The [counterfeit] fruit's going to look like Zespri, it's going to be in a box that's remarkably like Zespri, and so, it's not ideal and it will be sold at a fraction [of the cost].”
▲sun gold kiwi plants
He said Seeka had its own estimates of the counterfeit fruit’s potential damage to New Zealand growers’ returns, and it was “not a complete train wreck”.
▲yellow kiwi plants