Investment fears 'scaremongering', says Emerson

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The Land | 20 June 2012
Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson defending Shanghai Zhongfu's offer to acquire 30,000 hectares of new irrigation land.
BRONWYN FARR
 
Only a fool would believe Australia's agricultural development could be funded without foreign investment from sovereign wealth funds, according to Trade Minister Craig Emerson.
 
Renewed debate on the Foreign Investment Review Board's (FIRB) $244 million threshold has been sparked with news the Chinese company Zhongfu is interested in buying 30,000 hectares of new irrigation land, to be watered by Australia's largest man-made storage in the Top End.
 
The Chinese government-owned Shanghai Zhongfu group, which is receiving advice from former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, trades in Australia as Kimberley Agricultural Investments.
 
Mr Emerson pointed to a Business Council of Australia report that said $921 billion of investment could be threatened because of comparatively high costs, low productivity and red tape.
 
"You've got two choices here: a government that welcomes foreign investment, subject to FIRB screening; or the Coalition, which has adopted a position that is hostile to foreign investment, in particular foreign investment from China," he said.
 
"If we really do believe Australia's agricultural development can be funded from now on without any investment from sovereign wealth funds or State-owned enterprises, well I think that's a fool's belief," Mr Emerson told the ABC.
 
He said a study had been set up with Chinese authorities to "specifically recognise the production of Australian agricultural produce on the world market at world market prices", rather than having "Chinese investors come in here, buy up the farm, dedicate the production to their home markets and not sell it on the market".
 
The latter suggestion was "hysterical scaremongering" by Barnaby Joyce and Bill Heffernan, he said.
 
"If we're saying at the outset that a Chinese company cannot express an interest in any economic development in this country unless the Commonwealth has done a thorough investigation into that - well, say goodbye to the $920b pipeline (of projects)."
 
Original source: The Land
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