'An alarming trend': Call for 'national interest test' after Westland Milk deal to Chinese dairy giant

New Zealand First wants to see foreign ownership laws tightened, after a deal to sell Westland Milk to a Chinese dairy giant was given the go-ahead.

Ninety-three percent of farmer shareholders voted in favour of the sale to Yili for $588 million.

However New Zealand First spokesperson for primary industries Mark Patterson said the decision was disappointing.

"Our second-largest dairy cooperative has now been lost to foreign interests, and the West Coast has lost a crucial part of its 150-year-old dairying heritage," he said.

"The sale represents the further erosion of New Zealand control over our productive sector. Another asset of strategic importance to our economy flogged off to the highest bigger."

Mark Patterson said an alarming trend was emerging with the sale of iconic New Zealand companies.
Mark Patterson said an alarming trend was emerging with the sale of iconic New Zealand companies. Photo credit: Getty

The decision comes just months after iconic Kiwi ice cream brand Tip Top sold to European company Froneri, a company owned in part by Swiss multinational Nestlé; and some three years after the sale of Silver Fern Farms, New Zealand's leading marketer, processor and exporter of premium quality lamb, beef, and venison to the rest of the world, to Shanghai Maling.

Patterson said while it was the prerogative of Westland's shareholders to vote to approve the sale, an alarming trend was emerging. 

"It is hard to see how the increasing loss of control of our important industry is in the long-term best interests of New Zealand."

"This is why New Zealand First supports a 'national interest' test as part of the Overseas Investment Office's processes, which is being considered by the Government." 

"We need to balance the short-term gains of the sale of assets overseas against the long-term benefits for the country." 

Westland Milk chairman Pete Morrison said shareholders had shown strong support for the proposal, and it was a good deal.  

"When the board initiated the strategic review process, we did so with the full understanding that all Westland farming families needed to have a competitive milk payout.  We know this has been, and is, a driving need for all shareholders," he said.

"This proposed transaction will secure a competitive milk payout for at least 10 seasons for all of our existing shareholders and ensures that all of our existing shareholders' milk would be picked up for 10 years.

"The offer of $3.41 per share is significantly higher than the independent adviser's valuation range ($0.88 to $1.38 per share) and the milk supply commitment ensures a minimum price for 10 seasons of at least the Fonterra farmgate milk price."

He said the board recognised that the vote was an important milestone in Westland's history.  

The sale remains conditional on certain conditions, including obtaining regulatory consent from the Overseas Investment Office and receiving approval from the High Court.