LATEST: Changes giving government ministers powers to veto overseas investment applications have been cautiously welcomed, with some saying they don't go far enough.
Announcing the outcome of a review into overseas investment rules and regulations yesterday, Finance Minister Bill English said it was important not to discourage overseas investment, as it was important to the economy, but there was a need to address recent concerns about the sale of sensitive land to off-shore interests.
"It's quite important in the current environment that we recognise the very important contribution that foreign investment makes to New Zealand through increased jobs, access to capital and the links between New Zealand and its export markets," he said.
While the Overseas Investment Act would not be changed, Mr English said changes to regulation outside the Act would, from December, include a new economic interests factor allowing ministers to consider whether economic interests here are adequately safeguarded.
A new mitigating factor will also enable ministers to consider whether overseas investments provide opportunity for New Zealand participation, oversight or involvement, and more clarity will be provided about the Government's policy on investment in sensitive assets.
Federated Farmers President Don Nicolson said the changes seemed an elegant situation to a complex issue but also said he had not seen detail of the framework.
"What we're hoping for is a fine balance between opportunity and harm."
He said overseas investment was important for the economy and Federated Farmers would not want to see barriers to immigrants wanting to move to New Zealand to farm.
"We think the proposed mitigating factor goes along way towards balancing large inwards investment without blocking opportunities for New Zealand," Mr Nicolson said.
Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the changes would not protect New Zealand farm land from overseas ownership.
"Over the last five years we've lost 150,000ha of land into overseas ownership, mostly under the Labour government, and under the rules that Bill's come out with today there's no guarantee we won't lose another 150,000ha," he said.
Dr Norman said he wanted to see the Greens' policy of limiting sales of land to overseas owners to 5ha adopted.
Labour leader Phil Goff said it was a half-hearted effort that did practically nothing.
"It will do nothing to discourage the increasing foreign ownership of New Zealand land."
Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg welcomed the changes but said they should go further.
"The rules still leave huge holes in the oversight of some of the most important overseas investment into New Zealand where land acquisition is not a factor, such as leveraged buyouts by private equity investors which leave New Zealand companies in a weakened and highly indebted state."