20 Apr 2012

Chinese have same rights as other buyers - Key

10:07 pm on 20 April 2012

Prime Minister John Key says there can't be one law for the Chinese and one for land buyers from other countries.

The Government approved on Friday the sale of the 16 North Island Crafar farms to Shanghai Pengxin on the recommendation of the Overseas Investment Office.

Defending the move, Mr Key says the Chinese Government did not raise the Crafar deal with him or put pressure on the Government to accept the sale.

But Mr Key says if the deal had been turned down just because the buyers were Chinese that could have hurt relations between the two countries.

He says the sale will not damage the Government politically, as it meets all the legal requirements and treats the Chinese equally under the law.

But Green Party politicians say approval of the Chinese consortium bid for the Crafar farms sets a precedent for the Government to give China a head start on other local investments.

The Government says Shanghai Pengxin's bid for the 16 North Island farms met Overseas Investment Act criteria, and is consistent with a ruling from the High Court and the Overseas Investment Office says approval will advance New Zealand's China strategy, which aims to grow the countries' commercial relationship.

The Greens' co-leader, Russel Norman, says the deal sets a precedent for any future investors.

Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson also says people should not object to the sale of the 16 Crafar farms simply because the purchasers are Chinese.


Mr Williamson and a Cabinet colleague, Jonathan Coleman, approved the bid on Friday and said that taking even the most conservative approach, the Shanghai Pengxin application - though a subsidiary Milk New Zealand Holding Ltd - met the legal requirements.

Mr Williamson says large parcels of land around New Zealand have previously been bought up by purchasers of various nationalities, with no apparent concern.

An envoy from the Chinese Embassy says New Zealanders should welcome investment from China.

China's political counsellor at its Wellington embassy, Cheng Lei, declined to comment specifically on the Crafar deal, but says New Zealanders should take investor interest as a positive sign, and should be happy to have such investment in their country

Sir Michael says it's political

Sir Michael Fay heads the Crafar Farms Purchase Group - a consortium which forced the Government to reconsider the Chinese bid when it sought a judicial review - and disputes claims that Shanghai Pengxin will invest more in the farms.

He says the Government's decision to approve the deal has been entirely based on politics rather than economic analysis.

Sir Michael says he's not sure at this stage whether his group will continue with its legal action.

Separately, Labour Party leader David Shearer says it's no surprise that the Government has approved the bid because he believes that was its agenda all along.

The Maori Party says it is not worried over who buys the farms, but is critical of what it says is a lack of engagement with iwi by the Overseas Investment Office.

Several iwi which were part of a rival New Zealand bid have been shut out, and the Maori Party co-leader, Tariana Turia, says she's concerned about a lack of consultation.

Peters says it's a corporate raid

Earlier on Friday, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the Crafar farm chain is a valuable asset that needs to stay in New Zealand hands.

Mr Peters told Morning Report the Shanghai Pengxin bid is just a corporate raid.

"We have seen for the last 25-28 years countless corporate raids from offshore," he said. "They don't resemble foreign investment at all. They don't bring new jobs, new wealth, new exports - they just bring a change of ownership and usually less jobs and less wealth for our country."

Mr Peters said the sale would go against the wishes of most New Zealanders.