Campaigners want assurance foreign water bottling
Craig McCulloch, Political Reporter
Anti-water bottling campaigners want a categorical assurance government officials have stopped encouraging foreign bottlers to set up in New Zealand.
It has been revealed that New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) contacted the Chinese bottling giant Nongfu Spring and similar companies in 2015 about potentially investing in local water businesses.
Earlier this year, Nongfu Spring was given approval to expand its Otakiri Springs water bottling plant near Whakatāne, with the aim of exporting more than one billion litres of water a year. The decision is currently being appealed through the Environment Court.
The company's application to the Overseas Investment Office, released under the Official Information Act, said NZTE officials "actively encouraged" it to buy a bottling facility.
"NZTE indicated that investment in New Zealand water enterprises would be welcome," the application said.
Aoteaora Water Action spokesperson Niki Gladding told RNZ she was staggered by NZTE's efforts behind closed doors given the clear public opposition.
"How much of this has been going on? We've just scratched the surface with these documents.
"We don't know how many bottling companies are involved, how many bottling plants have been pushed. We don't know if it's still going on."
Ms Gladding said she wanted the new government to confirm it had put an end to any initiatives encouraging foreign bottlers to invest in New Zealand.
New Zealand should not be welcoming bottling companies to it shores, Ms Gladding said.
"You've got to wonder why the government was pushing this because the benefits to New Zealand are insignificant when the environmental costs are taken into account."
Whakatāne environmentalist Mawera Karetai told RNZ she was "absolutely gobsmacked" by the revelations.
"We believe in looking after our people. Sending our water overseas is not looking after our people."
Ms Karetai said she was "absolutely certain" the new government was not in favour of such action but she wanted someone to ensure the message had reached NZTE.
"I would like it if somebody knocked on the door at NZTE and said, 'If you're still trying to entice people here to take the water offshore, please stop doing that!' "
In its application, Nongfu Spring warned that turning its bid down would likely "adversely affect New Zealand's image overseas" given the government sought out the investment in the first place.
Ms Karetai said that was "bullying and bollocks" and New Zealand should not have given in to it.
The Minister responsible for NZTE, David Parker, was not available for an interview, but a spokesperson pointed out the actions occurred under the former government.
Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage did not respond to an interview request on Sunday night.
NZTE declined to front anyone for an interview, but in a statement confirmed it had initiated contact with Nongfu Spring and other potential investors.
"In 2015, NZTE had a number of water businesses that were looking for investment to increase the scale of their businesses, particularly with a view to potential export markets.
"We introduced domestic and international investors, and any potential sale involved a willing buyer and a willing seller.
"NZTE always advises that a final decision on any sale rests with the regulators."