For­eign own­er­ship de­bate heats up

Labour to get tough

South Waikato News - - RURAL DELIVERY - By MATHEW GROCOTT

New Zealand farm­land has be­come a po­lit­i­cal hot potato as par­ties try to out-do each other in their op­po­si­tion to for­eign own­er­ship.

The bid­ding war was sparked by the po­ten­tial pur­chase of the Cra­far Farms by Nat­u­ral Dairy of Hong Kong and the cre­ation of a lobby group by sev­eral busi­ness­man op­posed to such sales.

The is­sue could play out in the South Waikato in the fu­ture with ru­mours at the start of the year that for­eign in­vestors had looked at the Carter Holt Har­vey dairy con­ver­sion farms.

Labour Agri­cul­ture spokesper­son Damien O’Con­nor said the pol­icy his party an­nounced last week would make it eas­ier for suc­cess­ful and younger New Zealan­ders to buy farms.

‘‘This pol­icy is a clear state­ment that Labour be­lieves we must own and con­trol our fu­ture in Agri­cul­ture,’’ he said.

‘‘ The grow­ing pres­sure from cheap for­eign cap­i­tal has al­ready re­sulted in Kiwi land trans­fer­ring to over­seas in­ter­ests.

‘‘ While Labour al­ways wel­comed ap­pro­pri­ate for­eign in­vest­ment to grow our econ­omy, the takeover of mo­nop­oly in­fra­struc­ture and the pur­chase of pro­duc­tive land does not en­sure any greater re­turn to Ki­wis over the long-term.

‘‘ Pric­ing land on an in­ter­na­tional mar­ket makes it more dif­fi­cult for NZ farm­ers to af­ford the pur­chase price of land and run a vi­able farm­ing op­er­a­tion.’’

The Labour pol­icy would mean for­eign buy­ers would have to prove their in­vest­ment would ben­e­fit the New Zealand econ­omy.

The pol­icy goes fur­ther than Na­tional’s an­nounce­ment late last month that it would tighten for­eign in­vest­ment rules.

Back then Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill English said: ‘‘It’s im­por­tant that we wel­come ben­e­fi­cial for­eign in­vest­ment and recog­nise the pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion it makes to New Zealand through in­creased jobs, cap­i­tal and ac­cess to ex­port mar­kets.

‘‘At the same time, the Govern­ment recog­nises there are gen­uine pub­lic con­cerns about as­pects of cer­tain types of over­seas in­vest­ment.’’

Un­der Na­tional’s changes the Govern­ment would have ex­tra flex­i­bil­ity to con­sider a wider range of is­sues in­clud­ing largescale own­er­ship of farm­land when as­sess­ing over­seas in­vest­ment ap­pli­ca­tions for sen­si­tive land.

‘‘In re­cent months, min­is­ters have care­fully re­viewed the cur­rent frame­work for con­sid­er­ing over­seas in­vest­ment ap­pli­ca­tions – par­tic­u­larly in light of is­sues with re­spect to farm­land own­er­ship,’’ Mr English said.

‘‘ Over­all, the mea­sures ... strike an ap­pro­pri­ate bal­ance. They in­crease min­is­te­rial flex­i­bil­ity to con­sider a wide range of is­sues when as­sess­ing over­seas in­vest­ments in sen­si­tive land, while at the same time they pro­vide ex­tra clar­ity and cer­tainty for po­ten­tial in­vestors and the Over­seas In­vest­ment Of­fice.’’

ACT MP Heather Roy said there were sev­eral rea­sons why for­eign in­vest­ment was needed for New Zealand’s eco­nomic growth and ques­tioned the two par­ties’ mo­tives. ‘‘Both par­ties are driven by po­lit­i­cal polling show­ing that the sale of land to for­eign­ers is very un­pop­u­lar.

‘‘Polling shows that 75 per cent of New Zealan­ders op­pose the sale of farms to non-res­i­dents, the po­lit­i­cal ar­gu­ment for op­pos­ing such sales is very pow­er­ful.

‘‘The two big old par­ties are, in fact, fall­ing over them­selves to be the strictest on the re­stric­tion of New Zealand as­sets to for­eign­ers. How­ever it re­mains very fool­ish to stop for­eign in­vest­ment for a num­ber of rea­sons.’’

MEA­SURED AP­PROACH: Bill English thinks the Govern­ment has found the right bal­ance in its pol­icy to­wards for­eign own­er­ship of farms.

GO­ING FUR­THER: Damien O’Con­nor said Labour will take the rules on land own­er­ship fur­ther than Na­tional.

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