on FDI in agriculture
Despite all the rhetoric about the withdrawal of the state in neoliberal capitalism, state actors and modes of regulation continue to play a major role in the expansion of global investment chains. Institutional landscapes emerge from the capital-state nexus. The state and its associated institutions still act as the major clearing house for capital. The state should hereby not be imagined as a homogeneous enabler for foreign capital, but rather as a contested terrain of a multiscalar land rush regime. Investors and public pressure alike play a role in this terrain. Additionally, it is a political choice whether or not to make these flows of money public and visible. Many states around the world have decided not to allow the public to make foreign investment flows into strategic sectors of the economy visible. Interestingly, Aotearoa New Zealand, “a country built on foreign capital” (as many of my interviewees would say), has been a major exception.
(Ouma 2020: 90f.)
A central role in the regulation in Aotearoa New Zealand is taken by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO). Established via the Overseas Investment Act of 2005, it approves or declines all foreign investors in the country. As you can explore here, it provides data about those decisions that we can use as an empirical entry point for capturing the state’s role in the forming of institutional landscapes.
The OIO does not cover every land purchase but scrutinizes especially the purchase of so-called sensitive New Zealand assets, which means sensitive land, significant business assets valued at more than NZD$100 million as well as a fishing quota.
(Ouma 2020: 73)
So how does the OIO make its decisions? Two factors must be considered when scrutinizing the gate-keeping operations of the OIO:
Key facts of the Overseas Investment Act (2005, reprinted as of 1 December 2020):
The OIO’s statistical information shows consents to overseas investments which have been granted or declined. It is important to note that this does not necessarily include that the sale has taken or will take place. As already mentioned, the given information changes over time which makes comparisons over time difficult. The OIO publishes data on the number of approvals (land, business assets, and fishing quota) per month as well as the twelve months prior to this month. If you want to read more about how the OIO has handled a request, how it rationalises its own decision-making process and how it has actually made decisions in a political field with several gravitational forces, read the last section in the paper of Klinge (2020).