Foreign investment proposals for Oz agri rise 54%

Proposals for foreign investment in Australian agriculture and timberland rose sharply in 2015 under expanded review requirements for the sector.

Investment proposals for Australian agriculture, forestry and fishing assets grew by more than half in 2014-15, according to the country’s Foreign Investment Review Board’s (FIRB) annual report.

Proposed investment in the sectors increased to A$5.3 billion ($4.11; €3.64) in the 2015 fiscal year, compared with A$3.4 billion of proposals the previous year, a 54 percent increase.

In March 2015, the government said deals for rural land valued at A$15 million or higher need to seek approval. There is a limit of A$55 million for agribusinesses, and there are higher thresholds for certain countries, such as the US. The board tests proposals against the national interest by looking at national security, competition and economic factors, among other considerations.

Agriculture, forestry and fishing investment made up 2.7 percent of total approved investment capital last year. The largest sources of investment in the sector were China and the United States, with A$2.5 billion and A$1 billion in approved funding respectively.

A total of 77 investment proposals were approved for the sector, compared with 58 the previous year. The FIRB said 17 of those proposals would not have been subject to review before the limit was dropped to A$15 million, though their value or country of origin was not disclosed.

Roughly 11 percent of Australian agricultural land is owned by foreign entities, according to the Weekly Times, a publication focused on rural Australia. The FIRB’s review of the proposed sale of S Kidman for A$370.7 million ($289.76 million; €255.92 million) to the Shanghai Pengxin subsidiary Dakang Australia and Australian Rural Capital (ARC) consortium has been delayed until after the election.

A KPMG and University of Sydney report published this month put actual Chinese investment in Australian agribusiness in 2015 at A$375 million — a fraction of the timber and agricultural investment proposals recorded by FIRB. It is not clear whether forestry and fishing was considered in the KPMG report. The FIRB’s proposed investment sizes could be in excess of actual investment, as some investments were subject to multiple proposals.