UK is biggest investor in Australian farmland

The Australian government has published its register of foreign interests in agricultural land, revealing that Chinese investors own less than half a percentage of foreign-held land.

Foreign investors hold 13.6 percent of Australian agricultural land with the UK owning more than half of the figure, according to the Agricultural Land Register.

More than 52 per cent of foreign-owned land is held by UK investors.

The European country is followed by the US, Netherlands and Singapore. China, in fifth place has investments in 0.38 per cent of foreign-owned land, according to data collected by the Foreign Investment Review Board. Earlier this year, the FIRB blocked the sale of the S Kidman stations to a Chinese-led consortium in the run-up to the general election, citing national security concerns. At the same time, Chinese investment in Australian agribusiness, including land, hit a record high earlier this year, reaching A$375 million ($287 million; €252 million).

“The community must have confidence that this investment is in the national interest,” said Treasurer Scott Morrison. The government said the list’s publication would increase scrutiny and transparency.

“We cannot afford to risk our economic future by engaging in protectionism,” Morrison said, but added the register would protect Australia’s national interest.

New South Wales had the highest number of properties with foreign interests, with 1,798 registered. Most land on the list is used for livestock, followed by crops, forestry and then horticulture. There are also 2,381,000 hectares of foreign-owned land unregistered throughout the country.

A 2014 Parliament of Australia research paper found Canada had invested the most in Australian agriculture and 11 percent of Australia’s agricultural land was owned by foreigners at the end of 2012.

The Australian Taxation Office administers the Agricultural Land Register, which all foreign investors in agricultural land are required to report to, regardless of the value of the land.

The FIRB reviews any deal of A$15 million or more, with higher thresholds for some trade partners like the US and UK. It is due to set a threshold for scrutiny of water title purchases later this year.