Foreign investors snap up Marlborough land

CHLOE WINTER
Last updated 08:59 11/08/2014

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More than 51,000 hectares of agricultural land in Marlborough has been sold to foreign investors over the past nine years.

Overseas Investment Office decisions provided to the Express showed overseas buyers have purchased about 2965ha of grape growing land, 1668ha of viticulture land, 54ha of floriculture and nursery land, 1476ha of sheep, beef and cattle farm land and 45,500ha of land in the forestry sector in the Marlborough region since July 2005.

The biggest investors were buyers from the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Kaikoura National Party electorate candidate Stuart Smith said the grape growing and forestry land came under "a lot of scrutiny in terms of foreign ownership".

"What people don't realise is that over half of the grapes growing in New Zealand, of a vast majority of them, are grown by New Zealanders . . . people just make assumptions [about foreign ownership] and come to the wrong conclusions."

Smith said foreign investment in land was "very positive" for the region.

"They have bought more to the region than just the purchase price of the wineries and vineyards . . . they have bought route to market, which we would not have had otherwise.

"We must be careful to not throw the baby out with the bath water."

People must remember that land was only sold to overseas buyers it there was a "clear and identifiable benefit to New Zealand", Smith said.

"But I think in all of these things there has to be a balance and that's what I would be looking for."

Kaikoura Labour Party candidate Janette Walker said selling land to foreign buyers "should not be allowed to happen".

"The profits that they earn get exported out of New Zealand. Yes, they are contributing to the economy in the fact that they are using the goods and services and contributing to wages, but in terms of profitability, they are exporting it back to the country of origin.

"I don't have a problem with foreign companies leasing land, just buying."

Walker wanted New Zealanders to be given the opportunity to own or invest in the land first, she said.

"We are unusual in New Zealand in that we sell our land to foreigners. Our land is expensive for what we produce, which opens it up for foreign ownership . . . for them [overseas buyers] the land is very cheap."

Marlborough-based Green list MP Steffan Browning said selling to "any overseas entity" made it hard for New Zealand residents to buy land.

"We want more New Zealanders to get the opportunity to buy their own land but it's difficult."

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The supply and demand of land for overseas buyers drives the price up, making it hard for New Zealanders to compete, Browning said.

"Growing foreign ownership does put New Zealanders closer and closer to becoming peasants in their own country.

Foreign ownership had a "strong influence" in Marlborough, especially in the wine industry, he said.

"The big brands capitalise and they disadvantage some of, what could have been, family owned and operated labels . . . but the big wine companies certainly don't seem to be going away."

- The Marlborough Express

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