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Businessman wants NZ land leased, not sold

Sunday 8 Apr 2012 6:14 p.m.

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By Nellie Tuck

A China-based Kiwi businessman says New Zealand should consider leasing land to foreigners instead of selling it to them.

David Mahon says such a move would take the heat out of the Crafar Farms saga and satisfy Kiwis reluctant for New Zealand land to end up in foreign hands.

China is searching for land to provide for its burgeoning population. But a Chinese attempt to buy the Crafar Farms has upset many Kiwis.

They say New Zealand is not for sale.

So, David Mahon, the managing director of Mahon Chinese Investment Management, has another suggestion – instead of selling the land, a national trust could be set up so it could be leased.

"Then, foreign owners coming in acquire land through that trust and that trust could base sales on the fact that all land purchased in New Zealand was leasehold," he says.

It's an option that would allow ownership of land to stay in Kiwi hands and one which China has already taken up elsewhere.

This year, China leased hundreds of hectares of arable land in Tajikistan, while another 300,000 hectares in Argentina are likely to be leased to a Chinese company.

It's an idea Save the Farms says could also work here if the leases aren't too long.

"Every 25 years we should be looking at these owners and saying, ‘Are they good custodians of the land?’” says a spokesperson for the organisation.

“If they are, they can sign up for another 25 years. If they're not, then we'll then look for somebody else to take over that lease."

David Mahon says a proposal like this would give much needed consistency for all foreign investors looking to buy agricultural land here.

The Government declined to comment on the proposal to lease agricultural land to foreign investors until after the decision is made on whether to allow the Chinese bid to buy the Crafar Farms. That decision is expected by the end of the month.

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