18 January 2012

ABARES report provides facts about foreign investment


Joint Media Release with
The Hon Simon Crean
Acting Minister For Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Assistant Treasurer Mark Arbib and Acting Minister for Agriculture Simon Crean today released the Foreign Investment and Australian Agriculture report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) and commissioned by Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC).

The report notes:

  • Australia has a high level of food security. Australia is highly self-sufficient as well as food secure, producing more than twice the amount of food it consumes.
  • Foreign investment in the agricultural sector enhances Australia's food security by increasing efficiency and productive capacity. Such investment contributes to incomes, infrastructure and employment, often in regional areas. It can also help Australia gain access to new export markets.
  • Around 99 per cent of agricultural businesses by number in Australia are entirely Australian owned, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Around 89 per cent of agricultural land is entirely Australian-owned and around 91 per cent of water entitlements for agriculture are entirely Australian-owned.
  • Current foreign ownership of agricultural land, businesses and water entitlements in Australia is comparable with the levels of 1983-84.
  • Australian companies have significant investments in farmland and agribusiness enterprises in other countries.
  • The current strong regulatory framework surrounding foreign investment in agriculture protects the national interest and current policy settings are providing a "considerable level of scrutiny of foreign investment proposals and operations of foreign-owned agribusinesses in Australia".
  • Any measures that put further barriers in the way of foreign investors and reduce the flow of foreign capital into Australian agriculture would adversely affect the performance of the agricultural sector.
  • The regular collection of information on foreign ownership in the agricultural sector would provide greater transparency to the public.

Senator Arbib said the report provided a clear picture of existing foreign investment in Australian agriculture and addressed community concerns in this area.

"Foreign investment improves the food security of Australians by increasing agricultural production and boosting employment and incomes in the sector, with broader benefits for the Australian economy," Senator Arbib said.

"The ABARES report says there is real concern lower levels of foreign investment would lead to lower food production, and this could result in higher food prices."

Mr Crean said the report highlighted the current foreign ownership of agricultural land, businesses and water entitlements in Australia is relatively unchanged from almost 20 years ago.

"This report confirms that foreign investment will continue to play an important role in the diversification of the Australian food processing and agricultural value-adding industries," he said.

"As new markets emerge in Asia, Australia is well positioned to play to its strengths and take advantage of the opportunities."

The Government has today released its response to the report and a Policy Statement on Foreign Investment in Agriculture, which provides guidance on specific factors that the Government typically considers in assessing foreign investment applications that involve Australian agriculture. These factors are consistent with the Government's existing national interest principles.

The report can be found at https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/items/11-173.