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Thursday, 5 October 2017

China's consumers benefit from Australia's free media

I'm currently working on a new story about Asian investment in Australian agricultural and food properties, but the story is bigger than simply the numbers of farms owned by Chinese interests. It's true that China is a major buyer of farmland. The figures are clear. In the 2015-16 financial year Chinese owners had 1,463,000 hectares of Australian farmland and that figure had grown to 14,422,000 hectares by the 2016-17 financial year (second still to the UK).

But while major plays like Cubbie Station (the big cotton farm in southern Queensland) and the former S. Kidman estate (which includes various properties in several states) get the majority of the exposure in the media, it's more normal for purchases by Asian companies to be smaller. Often, too, they are joint ventures with Australian partners.

What also struck me during the course of my research was the number of non-farm agricultural properties - such as feedlots, abattoirs, sugar refineries, and port facilities - that are being bought or built by Asian interests. Some Chinese companies are thinking big, getting involved in the whole value chain from the farm to the port to the retail market. They are thinking big because they know that Chinese consumers trust Australian produce, which is considered "clean and green".

Which brings me to the point I wanted to make. We have such a reliable food system because we have a free press and a representative government - and an ethical judicial system - making sure the interests of consumers and communities are given as much importance as the financial wellbeing of private companies. Our public sphere works. Which is more than you can say for China's. Chinese consumers voting with their retail yuan are voting for a system like Australia's, which they can trust with their lives.

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