The Australian Chinese Relations Institute (ACRI) says new research backs its view that restrictions on Chinese investment in agriculture is purely politically motivated.
And it says the changes have come at the worst time, as Australian farmers tap into booming Asian markets.
As of November, Chinese investing more than $15 million in farmland and $55 million in agribusiness must gain approval of the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB).
The changes were pushed by the Nationals and with the support of the Greens were legislated by the Coalition.
At the time the Australian Labor Party opposed the changes, describing them as ‘protectionist’.
When the legislation was passed, Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the measures were being put in place because ‘it’s what Australians want’.
“We’re lowering the threshold at which FIRB scrutiny is required because overwhelmingly that is the view of the Australian people,” Mr Joyce said.
“They want greater protections on who owns what, and a greater understanding of who owns what, and the most sensitive area they look at is the actual ground we stand on.”
However the ACRI commissioned research carried out by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Business School appears to be at odds with the government’s point of view.
Deputy director and economist James Laurenceson said while it’s true that many Australian are ‘far from exuberant about foreign investment in agriculture’, they did not seem too concerned which country was doing the investment.
“We found the public actually prefer the bigger forms of investment,” Mr Laurenceson said.
“While investment from the USA was preferred to investment from China, it showed the public preferred investment from China that resulted in an Australian agribusiness being 50 per cent foreign owned to one from the US that led to a 62 per cent overseas stake.”
The research was conducted across Australia, in both urban and rural areas, and Mr Laurenceson said one of the surprising findings was there was very little difference in attitude to foreign investment.
There has been a widespread view in agricultural circles that opposition to foreign investment in farming is generated by urban populations.
China is not the only country that will now require FIRB scrutiny, Japn and Korea also face similar restrictions, particularly with relation to State Owned Enterprises (SOEs).
“What the research found was the public is indifferent to investment by a foreign company that is state owned or privately owned,” Mr Laurenceson said.
He believes a lot of the anti-Chinese investment sentiment is being driven by the media.
“The USA for example can invest up to $1.1 billion without needing any checks by the Australian government or FIRB.
“And the strict criteria also don’t apply to New Zealand and Chile.
“But the truth is it’s actually China that’s buying more of our agricultural produce than any other country.”
(Source – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-18/public-not-so-concerned-with-chinese-investment-in-farming/7040964)