China: introducing trade advisor, Damon Paling

Mar 14, 2024

China trade advisor Damon Paling, who has been engaged by DINZ to assist with restoring access for New Zealand frozen velvet to China, is keeping his fingers and toes on the pulse of the negotiations.

Keeping his finger on the China market access pulse is former New Zealand trade commissioner in China, Damon Paling.

As an independent company director and New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) Beachheads Advisor, Auckland-based Paling is well aware of the velvet value chain in China through previous work on velvet trade matters in China with two leading velvet exporters.

He has also reviewed activities for the China Deer Velvet Coalition (CDVC), with DINZ chief executive Innes Moffat and Shanghai-based Felix Shen, whose services have also been reconfirmed recently by the DINZ board.

Commenting on the current complex frozen access issue, Paling notes: “We know the underlying demand among the end-consumers for health and well-being has not changed.”

The primary focus is to ensure market access and on what exporters need to do to get deer velvet into preferred sales channels with strategically-aligned customers once it is reinstated, he explains. The secondary focus is on what the future will look like.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)’s market access team and technical negotiators is leading New Zealand’s efforts in the complex negotiations. Paling, who is acting on DINZ’ behalf, praises their “diligence, technical proficiency, sense of urgency and relationships with their main counterparts” in China.

Adding to the New Zealand effort is the Ministry for Foreign Affairs & Trade, the lead agency representing New Zealand’s long-term economic, political and trade relationship with the re-emerged superpower, he says.

Former trade commissioner is well qualified to assist

The Northland-raised Masters in Customs Law and Administration graduate joined PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in 1997, where Paling was posted firstly to Singapore, then the Philippines, before moving to Shanghai with them in 2004.

Paling’s focus during his 16 years there – “the best years of my life” – was in PwC’s international trade and customs group, handling a wide range of market access and value chain matters. This included the period of the establishment of the NZ-China free trade agreement, which was signed in 2008, before he moved to NZTE to become their Shanghai-based trade commissioner.

With NZTE, he worked with around 150 New Zealand businesses on their market entry and activation strategies.

He also witnessed first-hand what economists call the “compressed development” of China, which in one generation rose  from “the factory of the world to become the consumer market of the world” with a burgeoning middle class, as opposed to the three to four generations it took in Western nations.

Paling moved back to Auckland in 2020.

Careful and effective communication key to success

Reporting to the Deer Velvet Access Group, a sub-committee of the DINZ board comprising Tony Cochrane, Gerard Hickey, Paddy Boyd, Hamish Fraser and DINZ executive chair Mandy Bell, along with Colin Stevenson, Paling says careful and effective communication is key to success.

Several meetings have already been held with different groups of stakeholders to update them on the latest events. This included a  virtual “town hall” webinar attended by around 80 velvetters and other industry personnel on 6 March.

The issue is of “absolute priority” to the DINZ board and there is plenty of hard work going on behind the scenes to resolve the issue ahead of the new season in October, they were reassured. With a good relationship with New Zealand officials and access to high level contacts in China, it’s looking encouraging.

“It had been confirmed for Bell that, “We’re doing the right things.

Successful negotiation of a quality protocol will leave New Zealand velvet “in a better position in China than when we started,” noted DINZ manager markets Rhys Griffiths. As backup, a number of Plan B scenarios are also being explored.

The webinar came just ahead of a two week visit to China and Korea for Bell – her first official visit to the market – with manager markets Rhys Griffiths. Market access will be a key point of discussion in their meetings with the New Zealand ambassador in China, importers and government agencies in Beijing, along with other commercial contacts.

On their return, more meetings with stakeholders, such as the NZ Deer Farmers Association (NZDFA), will be held and another town hall update for the whole sector is planned for early April.


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