Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she was appalled to find out the previous government was promoting New Zealand to foreign water-bottling companies, and has confirmed this would no longer happen under her Labour-led coalition.
It was recently revealed that in 2015, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) “actively encouraged” foreign companies, including bottling giant Nongfu Spring, to invest in local water businesses, RNZ reports. "NZTE indicated that investment in New Zealand water enterprises would be welcome," the application said.
Ardern said what NZTE was up to was “absolutely unacceptable”, and said she did not consider bottling freshwater as an "opportunity" for overseas investment in New Zealand.
"West Coast Franz Josef was listed as one of the pristine glaciers that overseas investors might come and want to take a stake in," she said. "The notion that a past government would have instead been prompting it while we're trying to discourage people from investing in that way for purposes of exporting overseas seems incredible to me."
Just this year Nongfu Spring was granted approval to expand its bottling plant near Whakatāne, aiming to export more than one billion litres of water each year. The controversial decision met immense public opposition and is currently being appealed through the Environment Court.
Aoteaora Water Action spokesperson Niki Gladding said she was shocked by NZTE’s moves, and that they were hidden from the public, and was concerned the recent revelations were only a drop in the ocean. "How much of this has been going on? We've just scratched the surface with these documents," Gladding said. "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."
"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."