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Kiwis, Cows, and Canadian singers…

31 January 2012 9 comments

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A little bit of recent history first…

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As the dust settles over the sale of the Crafar Farms to Shanghai Pengxin, it may be worth looking at some aspects of how this government handled the sale, and it’s aftermath…

For starters, a time-line on the sale process,

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5 October 2009: Crafar Farms placed into receivership, owing $216 million to creditors.

22 December 2010: Government  blocks  bid by Natural Dairy to buy the 16 Crafar farms on ‘good character’ grounds.

27 January 2011: KordaMentha accepts offer from Shanghai Pengxin International Group Ltd to buy Crafar Farms.

13 April 2011: Shanghai Pengxin lodges application with the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) to buy the Crafar farms.

26 September 2011: Crafar farms receiver KordaMentha  rejects a conditional NZ$171.5 million offer for 16 central North Island dairy farms from a group led by controversial former merchant banker Michael Fay.

27 January 2012: Government ministers approve Shanghai Pengxin’s application to purchase 16 Crafar farms.

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The first matter that arises is the length of time from Shanghai Pengxin’s initial application (13 April 2011), to consent being issued by relevant Ministers: over nine months.

(Strangely, 13 April 2011 was a Sunday. Is it usual for government offices to be open in the weekend?)

The OIO (Overseas Investment Office) sets time limits for itself to process application,

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Estimated decision times

There is no statutory timeframe within which an application for consent must be decided. However applications generally fall into one of three categories according to complexity with category 3 being the most complex. These categories provide a guide for how long it may take for a decision to be made:

  • Category 1 applications, where the OIO aims to make decisions within 30 working days from the date of registration. Examples include: (a) applications for consent to purchase significant business assets,
    (b) “sensitive land” decisions delegated to the OIO by Ministers that don’t fall into the categories below,
    (c) variations to existing consents.
  • Category 2 applications where the OIO aims to make decisions within 50 working days from the date of registration.  Examples include: (a) “sensitive land” applications for consent requiring Ministerial consideration e.g. the purchase non-urban land greater than five hectares in size, where it includes or adjoins other sensitive land, such as conservation land, reserves etc
    (b) applications for exemptions,
    (c) applications where the overseas person is intending to reside in New Zealand indefinitely.
  • Category 3 applications, where the OIO aims to make decisions within 70 working days from the date of the registration.  Examples include: (a) applications to acquire an interest in fishing quota,
    (b) applications that involve special land being land that includes foreshore or the bed of a river or lake,
    (c) where the applicant intends to establish a purchasing programme such as a series of land acquisitions in a specific area for a specific project,
    (d) applications in respect of which a third party submission has been received by the Ministers or the OIO,
    (e) applications where the Ministers or the OIO have decided that consultation with third parties is appropriate in considering whether or not to grant consent.

Note that these targets apply to high quality, well prepared and analysed applications, and excludes the time where the OIO is waiting for the applicant to provide further information and the time for Ministers to consider and make decisions on relevant applications. 

Source

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Even if the Crafar farm sale had been considered as a “Category 3”  application – there is considerable difference between 70 working days (deadline around 17 June 2011) –  and nine months.

A cynic might suggest that  Ministerial approval was delayed because of last years’ election. There is considerable public opposition to farm land sales to non-New Zealanders and this would have had a profound impact on National’s electoral support.

I would go so far as to say that National would have lost another couple of percentage points (minimum) in Party Votes – and therefore lost the election itself.

It is therefore National’s “good luck” that the decision to approve the sale to Shanghai Pengxin came two months after the General Election.

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A lot of Racist Angst or Righteous Anger?

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The first media reports that Ministerial consent had been granted for the Shanghai Pengxin appeared around 11am on the morning of January 27.

At 11.23am, Interest.co.nz published a web story, headed, “Govt Ministers rubber stamp Overseas Investment Office approval of Shanghai Pengxin’s Crafar farms bid” .

At 11.28am, TVNZ’s website reports, “Turning down Crafar sale ‘unlawful’ – Key” .

Ten minutes later, and Scoop.co.nz, reported, “Sale of Crafar farms to Pengxin is approved”.

At 2.22pm, TVNZ’s story appeared, “Fay group fights Crafar farms sale to Chinese”.

And this appeared on TV3’s website at 4.02pm, “Parties slam Crafar farm sale to Chinese”.

There were other stories on this issue – but these carried the gist was what the media was reporting. It was undoubtedly the lead story of the day.

Media reporting on this issue was prominent and widely discussed. The nationality of the purchasers was mentioned – but mostly only  in passing.

Criticism, of which there was plenty,   rested on two major points,

  1. Loss of profits overseas,
  2. Loss of sovereignty, and the dominance of our FTA with China over local decision-making.

Both are critical issues that have a real bearing on our country’s future.

With regards to Point #1 – profits lost overseas – Green Party Agriculture spokesperson Steffan Browning said,

As food prices rise globally, selling off our productive land − such as the Crafar farms − to overseas bidders is economic folly. Foreign ownership of the Crafar farms means that the profits will flow overseas, adding further to our current account deficit. In the 12 months to September 2011, $15.2 billion flowed out of NZ to overseas owners of NZ companies and debt.” – Source

This is an issue of considerable weight, considering that New Zealand’s credit rating was downgraded last year by two credit-ratings agencies.

Anything that increases the outflow of profits from New Zealand worsens our current account.

The question then becomes – why allow it to happen if we can avoid it? Especially since we will end up paying for offshore investors’ profits, by way of increased interest rates.  Our current account deficit matters – especially when it impacts on businesses and home owners via  the interest they pay on their loans.

With regards to Point #2.  John Key stated,

And had they turned it down on the basis simply of being Chinese on their desk it would have been not only be unlawful but unacceptable.” – Source

And in the NZ Herald,

Mr Key also pointed to the Free Trade Agreement with China negotiated by the former Labour Government that contained a clause known as the Most Favoured Nation status.

That meant Chinese investment in New Zealand could not be treated differently to any other country.” – Source

So if it is true that China (or any other nation for that matter) has a “Most Favoured Nation” status, and that they are able to compete with local New Zealanders for land, businesses, contracts, etc, then I think we have a problem.

For one thing, it seemingly makes Parliament and elections an irrelevancy if we cannot restrict purchases of our assets to New Zealanders only..

Secondly, no New Zealander can hope to compete with rich overseas investors, should they have a mind to bid for an asset. Michael Fay is one of New Zealand’s richest men – and his consortium was outbid by Shanghai Pengxin by (reportedly) $30 million.

But most importantly, FTA’s are not democratic institutions. No New Zealander voter for it. Very few had a hand in agreeing to it.  Yet our FTA with China appears to take pre-eminence over Parliament?

That is a dangerous position for New Zealand to be in. Especially when we possess natural resources that other nations may covet. Our naivete may yet be our down fall.

Up until 7pm on Friday, the debate had been framed – for the most part – in economic and nationalistic terms.

Then, Maurice Williamson (Minister for Land Information/ Overseas Investment Office) and Cedric Allan (spokesman for Shanghai Pengxin) were both interviewed on TV1’s “Close Up“, that night,

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[click on image]

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Williamson succeeded in re-framing the debate over the Crafar deal. From economic and national sovereignty, he turned it into a race-based debate.

Williamson said,

“…New Zealanders were happy for Shania Twain to own 23,000 hectares or whatever.” – Williamson, 6.04

Actually, that’s just not true. Minister Williamson has either forgotten, or is fibbing,

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Full Story

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Williamson continued,

When the Americans, a huge number of Americans,  were buying it [land], not mutter. Not a murmur. Not a whisper from all of your opponants out there. But as soon as the word ‘Chinese’  was mentioned, we were opposed to it. And I have to say  that is bordering more on racism than it is on xenophobia.”  – Williamson, 6.11

The charge is repeated by agri-journalist, Richard Rennie,

We’re talking tens of thousands of hectares bought by the Italians, the Germans, even the Brits and Americans. And yet we haven’t heard a murmur from anyone in New Zealand about that.” – Source

Again, none of it is true,

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“… I didn’t hear this level of protest when huge tracts of land was being sold under the Labour government…  ” – Williamson, 6.30

Then Williamson contradicted his 6.04 statement,

Well of course the public don’t like any of our land being sold to foreigners and I understand that...” – Williamson, 8.56

Maurice Williamson had been well-prepped by his media advisors. Instead of being drawn into a debate over economics, he had succeeded in reframing the issue as one of racism. And most liberal minded New Zealanders would think twice before uttering a criticism that might be construed as racist. (Those in our society who are already racist wouldn’t care a hoot and would probably vote ACT or National anyway. They are not Williamson’s intended audience.)

This is where the racism/xenophobia meme started: Friday evening, on “Close Up“, by Maurice Williamson.

Even when  we finally got to the nub of the truth, about China’s actual long-term goals, the real point by now had been lost amidst Williamson’s echoing cries of  ‘racism!’.

For the record, Shanghai Pengxin representative, Cedric Allan said,

China is looking for energy, it’s looking for water, it’s looking primarily for food…” – 7.22, Allan

Of course it is.  And the OIO decision had nicely  set in concrete China’s very long-term goals of securing food-supplies for the future,

The conditions

…Milk New Zealand must use reasonable endeavours to assist Landcorp to extend its business to, and market its products, in China” – Source

Pengxin announced in April 2011 after launching its bid for the farms that it planned to increase milk production from the Crafar farms by 10% and wanted to capture a bigger share of the Chinese market with branded, dairy-based consumer products. It said it planned to spend more than NZ$200 million to buy and upgrade the farms. It then planned to invest a further NZ$100 million on marketing cheeses, ice creams and baby formula for the Chinese market.” – Ibid

Is there anything wrong with increasing dairy exports to China?

Normally, no.  Fonterra has been developing and building our exports to the Chinese market for the past decade. With revenues of nearly $20 billion in 2010, it is one of our major industries and export earner.

But, as mentioned before, any export-revenue to China by Shanghai Pengxin-owned  farms will not come to New Zealand. They will end up in offshore bank accounts, and will be of little benefit to New Zealanders. In fact, most of the profits will vanish off-shore just as the dairy products will.

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And topped off with some rich irony.

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The Right have been leading the charge to support the Shanghai Pengxin deal, and accusing detractors of naked racism…

Meanwhile, the Left has countered with (credible) concerns about loss of export income…

The Right are not usually renowned for sympathatic understanding of racism against ethnic groups. They are usually more relaxed with “trashing the treaty”, mixed with a bit of Maori bashing, as  their usual ‘sporting activity’. After all, the right wing party ACT was adamant that Maori were not going to get tangata whenua-based seats on the Auckland Super Council.

The Left, on the other hand are not usually in a position where they find themselves arguing on behalf of economic benefits; current accounts; export earnings; and sound commercial practices. What next – Socialist International on the Board of Goldman Sachs? (Actually, they might not do a half-bad job, to be honest… )

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But the final verdict?

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Lies with the voting public.

Somehow, I doubt if the public are terribly reassured by Key’s pronouncement on this matter,

If we saw a significant buy-up of New Zealand farms, then the Government’s response would likely be to further toughen the regulations or the Overseas Investment Act, but at this point, we’re not really seeing that.” – Source

When John Campbell asked Dear Leader what constituted “a significant buy-up of New Zealand farms” (7.47) – Key was left floundering. He couldn’t name a figure. He could only waffle about vague trends. However, by the time a “trend” is established, how much of a mess will we have created for ourselves?

How much is too much?

And will our elected representatives have the wit to know when to say, “No more”?

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The Law

Overseas Investment Act 2005

Section 16

Section 17

Section 18

The OIO Decision

Decision required under the Overseas Investment Act 2005: Milk New Zealand
Holding Limited

Previous Blog entries

The road to poverty?

The Great NZ Sell-Off Continues

How to lose $5.3 billion dollars without any effort at all

The second colonisation of New Zealand

The Crafar Farms – Why the delay from the OIO?

Farms, politicians, and emails

Competing against the Chinese Government…

Is this man a complete fool?

As predicted

Land Sales – a Sorry Saga of Sheer Stupidity

Mum & Dad investors?

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When the future arrived…

30 January 2012 2 comments

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Global warming… pollution… over-population… decaying inner cities… rising crime and mass poverty… food shortages…  collapsed fish-stocks… corrupt government and police…

It’s hard to tell whether this is a description of current human civilisation, 2012AD… or the nightmarish vision of humanity in 2022AD,

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As nations scurry to gain control of arable farmland in Africa, New Zealand, and elsewhere,  we may have taken another step closer to the dystopian futureworld of  “Soylent Green“,

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Full Story

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Unfortunately (for us), as CO2 levels,  temperatures, and acidification rise, these will impact on the state of our oceans. What profound impact these changes will have on the oceans’  eco-systems is anyone’s guess – but it’s not looking too flash for us,

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Even if global warming doesn’t kill of the fish stocks – human over-fishing, it seems, will do the job. And by the year 2050AD – when the human population is expected to rise to an estimated 9 billion – is precisely when food supplies will be desperately  needed more than ever.

Little wonder, then, that demand for farmland to grow protein for burgeoning populations is rising.

We may have sold our farms too cheaply.

 

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The Great NZ Sell-Off Continues…

7 September 2011 4 comments

Despite recent assurances from the Prime Minister, John Key, to restrict foreign purchases of NZ farmland, his assurances that,  “I think we’re making progress in this area” seems to be based on empty words and little more.

As the Dominion Post  reported last year, “an average of 82 hectares of agricultural land per day has been approved for sale to offshore investors”.

Some recent headlines bear out that report,

It seems quite clear that John Key’s optimistic view that ” I think we’re making progress in this area” is wildly misplace. As usual, his soothing, reassuring words bear little relationship to reality.

But voters have yet to figure that out, collectively.

What the New Zealand public does understand, with crystal clarity, is that selling our farmland to overseas investors is counter-productive; counter-intuitive; and short-sighted economically.

It also cheats our children of their birthright.

New Zealand farmland is over-priced and farmers have gotten into trouble with massive bankloans and reducing equity. In part, this is due to the weasy credit that has been available to NZ society since 1985, when our banking system was de-regulated by you-know-who.

De-regulation meant that vast amounts of money flowed into NZ, for banks to lend out as mortgages, investments, loans, etc.

It also meant that, as money-supply increased, so did property prices. Quite simply, we could expect to sell our properties because there was an endless supply of money available from banks. Purchasers could borrow 80%, 90%, and sometimes 100% for mortgages.

So property prices went up. Our borrowings went up. Demand went up, as speculation was tax-free (remember that there is no Capital Gains Tax in NZ). It was an uncontrolled spending spree, without any consideration that eventually, the bubble would burst.

Well, in 2008, the bubble burst. In early 2008, there were signs that there was a crisis looming in the US banking industry. On 3 March 2008, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, the US federal agency that backs bank deposits,  identified 76 banks as in trouble , a 52% increase from a year ago.

By July 2008, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, were in severe financial  trouble.

On 15 September 2008, Lehmann Bros, in Wall St, New York, filed for bankruptcy. The subsequent chain reaction of banking failures sparked a global financial crisis and the world fell headlong into a recession.

Here in NZ, credit dried up, and suddenly our farms were no longer worth the high prices that people had been paying for them. The property boom came grinding to a halt, and the “bubble” well and truly burst.

We  could no longer afford to buy over-priced properties to make speculative profits that had been financed using money borrowed from overseas. It was time to pay the Piper.

For many owners of farmland, the obvious solution seems to be to sell properties to overseas interests. Foreigners have the necessary capital – which local New Zealanders do not.

Unfortunately, in doing so, we are effectively locking-out our next generation from the opportunities that our generation – the massive-borrowing, heavily-indebted, Baby Boomers – had enjoyed. We have played “monopoly” with our farms; making ever-increasing profits; as we sold land to each other in a kingd of mad, money-go-round.

Now, we can only save our indebted ‘skins’ by selling out to foreign interests.

This is simply another chapter of the story I told here; “Greed is Good?“.

Is it fare, I ask myself, that we have priced farm land out of reach of our children?

Is it fare, I ask myself, that instead of our children enjoying the same opportunities that we did – that instead it will be Germans , Americans, Swiss, Chinese, etc, who will now reap the benefits?

The greed and naked self-interest of Bany Boomers is well known. It is no secret that we have looted the wealth of this country, and have left our children with fewer prospects than we enjoyed. No wonder so many of them have left New Zealand, and plan never to return,

“A Victorian-based Kiwi with a student loan debt, who did not want to be named because he did not want to be found by the Government, said he did not intend to pay back any of his student loan.

The 37-year-old’s loan was about $18,000 when he left New Zealand in 1997. He expected it was now in the order of $50,000. The man was not worried about being caught as the Government did not have his details and he did not want to return to New Zealand.

“I would never live there anyway, I feel just like my whole generation were basically sold down the river by the government. I don’t feel connected at all, I don’t even care if the All Blacks win.

“I just realised it was futile living [in New Zealand] trying to pay student loans and not having any life, so I left. My missus had a student loan and she had quite a good degree and she had paid 99c off the principal of her loan after working three years.” – Source

As we lose more and more farmland to overseas ownership, we should also expect some fairly noticeable consequences to follow;

1. Profits will flow back overseas, to offshore investors’ banks. This will impact on our Balance of Payments (negatively, I might add). This, in turn, will affect our sovereign credit rating; the interest rates we pay for money we borrow… and finally, our mortgages.

2. As farm produce fetches higher prices overseas, expect to see this reflected in the price of dairy products and meat that we purchase in our supermarkets. We have already experienced the high cos of milk and cheese, due to high prices overseas. Expect this to worsen.

Property and farm owners may object. They will squeal like stuck pigs, in fact. But the sale of our land to foreigners, whether American or Chinese; Australian or German; will eventually impact impact negatively on our economy and on the prospects of our children.

Enough is enough.  No more pandering to the self-interest of Baby Boomers.

It is time that common sense kicked in. The sell-off of our country has to stop. Otherwise, as John Key warned, we will become tenants in our own land.

To hell with that.