This is yet another story of how the lockdown and the accompanying border closure of Auckland have had a detrimental impact on many small businesses.

A Kiwi-Indian first-time importer, Mahendra Jade, says he is “gutted” to see how the MBIE authorities’ rejection of his travel exception to cross the Auckland border and sell the date-sensitive products timely has nearly sounded the death-knell on his new venture.

“It is not my fault that the government imposed lockdown before my first shipment arrived onshore, causing serious disruption to pre-sales, marketing, and sales processes to sell those products, some of them new to market, to local retailers and then leaving my business completely unsupported during that period,” Jade said.

Jade had ventured into import-export business earlier this year in February – long before another unexpected Covid lockdown – borrowing heavily to invest in this new venture.

The shipment had arrived in Auckland on October 18, and MPI had cleared the partial shipment on November 16, with the remaining shipment not cleared till December 4 when the Indian Weekender spoke with Jade on this story.

“I am a small business owner based in Cambridge for the last many years but have recently moved to Auckland to start a new import-export business bringing packed and processed ethnic food items from overseas and selling to local retailers all over NZ.

“This move required months of planning and high capital investment which I largely raised by borrowing to put in an order for my first consignment worth of $33,000 in February-March this year,” Jade said.

MBIE declines travel exception to cross Auckland border to sell goods

“Although as a first-time importer, I was anticipating some disruption before the consignment could eventually arrive at the Auckland port, I was not expecting to be stopped from crossing the Auckland border and sell those products to retailers outside of Auckland, especially when ethnic grocery and supermarkets are deemed as essential services and allowed to operate even under the Alert Level 4.”

The decline comment received by Jade that the Indian Weekender has seen says, “Your request has been reviewed and subsequently declined. Unfortunately, your travel does not meet the criteria of the category, which only permits food delivery services for bakeries, uncooked food suppliers, alcohol suppliers.”

“I find this completely bizarre, unfair, and unhelpful,” Jade said.

The government’s website (www.covid19.govt.nz) classifies a special section for permitted business travel across the Auckland boundary where businesses or services listed in Item 1 of Schedule 5 of the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Alert Level Requirements) Order (No 12) 2021 are allowed to cross Auckland borders.

It provides a list of businesses and services for which anyone can go to or carry out work (regardless of whether in the alert level 3 area and, if necessary, stay in no more than one place as temporary accommodation) – and includes “supermarkets” and “dairies.”

Jade is frustrated about this discrepancy in the rules mentioned on the government’s website and the ruling received on his travel exception application.

“I believe MBIE officials have wrongly considered my request under a different category of ‘Food delivery services for bakeries, uncooked food suppliers, alcohol suppliers’ (1.11) instead of considering under ‘supermarket’ (1.1) or ‘dairy’ (1.2).

Notably, ethnic supermarkets were also deemed as essential services during the last lockdown March-April 2020 that were allowed to operate under Alert level 4 lockdown, with a guarantee of open supply lines across the country, like for other supermarkets to ensure supply of culturally appropriate food for the communities.

New business left unsupported without Resurgence Support Payment

To add further misery, Jade’s new and struggling business that started in February-March (on a borrowed capital) was left unsupported without Resurgence Support Payment – a one-off cash payment scheme – by the government to support businesses experiencing a decline in revenue due to change in Alert Levels.

“This is not an ideal start for my new business venture and have escalated huge costs for no fault of mine and am left completely unsupported for doing business,” a frustrated Jade moaned.

A query has been sent to the MBIE office at the time of writing this story and a response is awaited at the time of publishing.