PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron promised measures Thursday to help prevent foreign investors buying French farms amid concern that Chinese businesses are taking advantage of low land prices and distressed rural communities.
“For me, French agricultural lands are strategic investments on which our sovereignty depends, so we can’t allow hundreds of hectares of land to be bought by foreign powers without us knowing the aims of these purchases,” Macron told a crowd of young farmers at the presidential palace.
He was referring to news last year that a Chinese fund had bought 900 hectares of land in the cereal-growing Allier region in central France, following an acquisition of 1,700 hectares in the Indre area in 2016.
“We will very obviously put in place regulatory safeguards and will work with you… to put an end to what happened,” he told the farmers, referring to the acquisitions.
Australia announced new restrictions on foreign buyers of agricultural land at the beginning of the month, while concerns about Chinese expansion abroad have been voiced from Africa to Canada in the past.
At the end of last year, French rural association Safar urged the government to act against a huge increase in financial investors buying land, which it said imperilled France’s traditional family ownership model.
Most of the new financial investors were French, it said, but after the Chinese acquisition last year, farmers’ union FDSEA accused the fund of preying on farmers on the verge of bankruptcy.
Macron was elected last May as a pro-business and pro-trade centrist, but he has also made shielding what he considers France’s strategic economic interests a priority.
At the European level, he has argued for new measures to prevent the dumping of cheap job-killing Chinese imports on the EU as well as closer scrutiny of foreign investments in strategic sectors.
In January, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said France would broaden a domestic law that already subjects foreign investments in the energy and transport sectors to scrutiny to include purchases in the technology industry.