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Key Government sends out mixed messages on foreign ownership

The release of the long-awaited overseas investment review will leave most New Zealanders confused as to what the original point of the exercise was, Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman said today.

Finance Minister Bill English announced changes to New Zealand's overseas investment regulations after an 18-month review of the Overseas Investment Act. The changes include an economic interests test allowing ministers to consider whether New Zealand's economic interests are adequately safeguarded and promoted.

"New Zealanders are concerned about losing control of our economic sovereignty," said Dr Norman.

"Having vast tracts of our productive farmland sold to overseas buyers is obviously not in New Zealand's long term interests.

"At the end of 18 months the Key Government has again sent out mixed signals on overseas investment.

"It has realised that overseas investment needs to be seen from the perspective of the whole economy and has introduced an economic interests test. Which could be good depending on how it is implemented," said Dr Norman

"However the 'mitigating' factor test which gives brownie points for an overseas corporation hiring the odd New Zealand director will likely be open to some abuse."

Dr Norman said that a much more transparent and effective option would be to rule out overseas ownership of farmland over a certain size, such as 5 hectares. The Green Party have proposed exactly this restriction on overseas ownership but both Labour and National have opposed it.

"The Key Government has admitted that free trade agreements place constraints on the ability of New Zealand to tighten our rules on overseas ownership without breaching these agreements," said Dr Norman.

"National and Labour both need to stop signing us up to agreements that bind our ability to constrain overseas ownership."

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