Sydney (Reuters) — An Australian probe into foreign ownership of the nation’s $31 billion farm sector has put food security back on that country’s political agenda.
The government took foreign investors by surprise Monday, announcing a national audit of foreign ownership of farms and food production businesses, saying it wanted to get to the truth behind public concerns about rising foreign ownership.
The influential Greens party, whose support is crucial to the minority government’s survival, has welcomed the audit and called on the government to develop a “food sovereignty” policy to resist a trend toward foreign control of farmland and water.
“There are clear moves by some countries to secure their own food supplies by buying up land and water in other countries, bypassing trade altogether in favour of a simple outsourcing arrangement,” Greens senator Christine Milne said Tuesday.
“Australia has a key role to play in the region as a source of good quality food and we must avoid this trend.”
The National Farmer’s Federation also welcomed the audit, echoing the call for Australia to have security over its own farm sector, but it acknowledged that foreign capital was important for development of rural industries.
“We need to recognize that the growth and expansion of Australian enterprises greatly depends on foreign investment,” federation president Jock Laurie said in a statement.
“As food security concerns escalate around the world, Australia’s vibrant farm sector and its supply chain are increasingly attracting attention as a strong investment prospect for international investors.”
Canadian companies’ recent investment plays in Australia include Calgary-based Agrium’s planned C$1.16 billion takeover of AWB Ltd. and Regina-based Viterra’s takeover last year of ABB Grain.