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Exporters fear repercussions after Govt calls out China on hacking

Exporters are hoping China and New Zealand can keep politics out of their long-standing trade relationship.

New Zealand and China's flags. Source: istock.com

By Anneke Smith of rnz.co.nz

It comes after the Government joined a group of United States allies pointing the finger at China for sponsoring cybercriminal activity around the globe.

An analyst has has suggested New Zealand may face trade repercussions over the confrontation but the export and farming sectors hope any impact will be limited.

Container ship at Ports of Auckland (file picture). Source: istock.com

Export New Zealand executive director Catherine Beard said the Government's decision to condemn China over cybercrime was a necessary but difficult step.

"I think New Zealand has no choice, really, but to speak out when we uncover that kind of activity. It's the sort of thing I don't think New Zealand would do to another country."

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Beard said the trade repercussions of the Government's stance were a big concern but she hoped the two countries could keep politics and trade separate.

"We would hope that we are able to voice concerns over issues without it impacting on trade and that we can still continue to work with each other and supply each other's markets."

Former trade negotiator and diplomat Charles Finny, a lead negotiator of the China-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement in 2008, said although GCSB Minister Andrew Little's statement on the hacking was unusually firm and pointed, he would be surprised if there are serious ramifications as a result.

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Thousands of computers in New Zealand were targeted in May after Chinese state-sponsored actors allegedly attacked Microsoft exchange’s email servers. Source: Breakfast

"If we were the only country criticising China in this space then I could see a vulnerability but why would China want to retaliate against New Zealand when others are saying exactly the same thing... so I think the fact we are in such big company gives me some comfort."

Federated Farmers' national president and trade spokesperson Andrew Hoggard was also keeping optimistic.

"I guess for me it shows we have an independent foreign policy, we call things as we see them, but I'd also hope that we can keep the politics and stuff aside from trade, particularly food trade."

Beard said there was a lot on the line if the trade relationship soured. China has taken more than $19 billion of New Zealand exports in the 12 months to June last year.

"Our exporters do have options, they don't have all their trade in the one market. But China is a very valuable market for us and we would not like to see that change."

The Chinese embassy in New Zealand is calling the cybercriminal accusations groundless and irresponsible.

It has raised objections directly with the Government, urging it to stop its mud-slinging and abandon its Cold War mentality.

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Little has declined interviews, a spokesperson saying his statement is complete.