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Natural Dairy NZ & Chinese neo-mercantilism

Written By: - Date published: 10:23 am, September 13th, 2010 - 65 comments
Categories: Economy, farming, food, International, overseas investment - Tags: ,

To have power and independence, any country needs a solid economic base. That’s even more true of superpowers/empires. To secure their economic sovereignty they need the raw materials and markets of less powerful countries. They reinforce their economic sovereignty by taking others’. The British did it through colonialism. The US, USSR, and Germany through expansionism. During the Cold War, the Superpowers used ideology and proxies to gain political control and access to markets. China’s approach is different. It is less concerned with political control. It just wants to buy up supply chains.

China gets that we are living in an increasingly resource-constrained world and it’s getting in to buy up what it can while it can.

This is an extension of the ‘neo-mercantilist’ approach to trade. Neo-mercantilism is an economic strategy whereby countries attempt to maintain and improve their economic power by running high current account balances – exporting more than they import. It emphasises central control and currency control, while discouraging domestic consumption to build the State’s economic power on the world stage.

With its current account surplus and the need to keep its currency down, a neo-mercantilist country needs to spend its surplus overseas. China does it, in part, by buying up the foreign resources it needs to import. In doing so, China is able to re-coup the profits from its own imports and further builds its economic independence. Of course, some element of political control is usually necessary.

We see this in Africa, where China’s oil investment Sudan, for example, helps prop up a government that the West wants to isolate but that is more of a side-effect. The objective is control of the oil. In the Pacific, China buys the favour of rulers with mana-enhancing white elephant projects like the Samoan Aquatic Centre. Built by Chinese workers with Chinese funds for the South Pacific Games, even the expense of maintaining this glory project is beyond Samoa, so its rulers are dependent on Chinese money to keep it running. In return, China is allowed to buy up fishing licences.

And we also see it in New Zealand. Natural Dairy New Zealand, which is aiming to buy the Crafar farms as a first foothold into owning the base of New Zealand’s dairy supply, is really China Jin Hui Mining Corporation Limited. This is a state-owned company. By buying Crafar farms, the Chinese government would be starting to gain control of the supply of one of its fastest growing imports. The farms would be in New Zealand but the product and the profits would flow to China.

Some switched on people asked ‘what’s in it for China?’ when they agreed to negotiate a free trade deal with a small country that already had nearly no tariffs on its imports. Well, this is the answer – control over the source of most of its dairy imports.

In light of this, and the growing concerns in New Zealand about regaining a measure of our economic sovereignty, the formation of the ‘New Citizens’ Party and the new ‘United’ newspaper are very interesting. Both seem to be about pushing Chinese government interests, keeping New Zealand open for Chinese investment. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that the people behind both rather shadowy organisations are Party members.

New Zealanders shouldn’t have any problem with immigration, it’s a central feature of our history. Immigrants enrich our culture. We shouldn’t necessarily be anti-foreign investment. While we continue to fail to save to build our own capital base, we need others’ money. But letting a foreign government – it doesn’t matter which government – buy up our primary export industry is a strategic mistake.

65 comments on “Natural Dairy NZ & Chinese neo-mercantilism ”

  1. B 1

    You don’t have to look as far as China: (Aussie Treasurer) Costello to Bollard:

    “Remember, you sold your banks to us: you don’t own your financial system any more. Leave the regulation to us.”

    • Mr Magoo 1.1

      I am glad you brought that up.

      China will have to compete fiercely with Australian in this. We already sold most of everything else to them already…

      And when we use that fact to flesh out this issue it avoids cries of “racism”. It is an issue for any tiny economy with something worth selling. And it is VERY hard to stop.

      For examples of what happens when a country tries to stop the wholesaling of their natural resources one only needs to look at South America…

  2. Bill 2

    From my perspective it doesn’t make any difference whether the private entity owning the land is the Crafars or China Jin Hui Mining Corporation Limited.

    Private ownership is private ownership and is not in my or anyone elses interest.

    Shareholders might make some financial gain. And ‘New Zealand’ might have better or worse financial indicators depending on how and where the profit flows.

    But that which is good for private investment and the NZ economy is usually detrimental or at best, of no consequence for us citizens living out here in society.

  3. prism 3

    Fancy that – the Crafar farms’ Chinese investor (presented as a business woman with many interests and who has already had financial failures, so one wonders where is her backing money coming from) is a paper tiger.

    The Chinese have opened up to NZ which had already abandoned home and hearth to join the diaspora looking for a living in the new world markets. Why? Was it warm fuzzies from our apologies for past indignities, or from relationships with idealistic and individualistic NZs like Rewi Alley and Kathleen Hall and other NZs working in China and who were far ahead of their biased, incurious contemporaries (still numerous)?

    Now the Chinese are looking for the opportunity to own and profit from our major industry, agriculture. (We have sold our banks to Australia, also our supermarkets so another country is already creaming both our financial profits and from our food industry.) It makes good sense for China to do so. But are we going to see the colonisation of Maori repeated, this time the recipients being Maori/Pakeha. How ironic that would be.

    Food is not in short supply in theory. There is always some happy chappy to tell us that the world can produce more than required by growing populations, the problem is just distribution. B..it. Lies and statistics can be interchangeable descriptions. The reply to positive theories on food supply adequacy is the common-sense cliche “There’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip”.

  4. Loota 4

    The Chinese Govt is flush with US treasury bonds, foreign cash and equivalents. I’m not sure on the latest stock pile of monies they are sitting on but it is roughly 1.5 trillion USD (or close to it).

    But here is something the Chinese know very well: that money is essentially useless. You can’t eat it, drink it, or shelter from the cold with it.

    So it makes sense to trade in that useless stuff (often just numbers on an electronic record) for things which are real and which are actually useful. Food generating facilities, raw materials, productive assets, technology.

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    The export led recovery of which our politicians speak is also merchantilist. Capitalism is always merchantilist and empiricist as it requires growth to survive and it can only get that growth from import of raw products and exporting completed products. The end result is that the countries exporting raw products (i.e. NZ) goes backwards as it produces less and less and the country producing the completed products becomes better off at the others expense.

    While we continue to fail to save to build our own capital base, we need others’ money.

    No we don’t – money is not a resource.

    • Richard 5.1

      No we don’t – money is not a resource.

      Tell that to someone with no money.

      In a similar vein, land ownership rights are just a bit of paper.

      Landownership and money are both abstract resources. They are resources nonetheless; what matters in both cases is what you do with those resources.

      • Loota 5.1.1

        Land ownership may be abstract, but the land itself is very definitely a resource.

        As for capital – the NZ Govt could just print notes if it wanted to, without going into debt to foreign banks.

        • Richard 5.1.1.1

          So, if we want the land back we can just print money and buy it back? Somehow I don’t think that “printing a whole lot of cash” is quite as simple as you think.

          Anyway, because landownership is only abstract, if we want the land back, we can always nationalize it.

          • KJT 5.1.1.1.1

            I suspect in future the Chinese may follow the example so amply provided by the UK in the past and the US now.
            Not saying they will do it. But there are plenty of examples to follow. See: Boxer revolution, Opium wars, Boer war, Iran and the Shah, Indonesia, Chile, Afganistan, Honduras, Panama, Iraq, Venezuala, Granada et al.

            In future, if China follows the UK and US examples of imperialism, any attempt to nationalise land for the benefit of the local inhabitants or to expell or limit Chinese business may be met with a forced change of Government or invasion.

            Especially as many Chinese have memories of being the victims in the past of imperialism.

            • Richard 5.1.1.1.1.1

              I doubt they’ll invade us over some spilled milk. It’s not quite the same as oil, and we’re not ever going to be talking about the same value of product.

              If (once sold) the farms are subsequently nationalized by some future local NZ government, the Chinese might kick up a fuss, but ultimately, they’ll either just buy the same milk from the newly nationalized company, or they’ll buy their milk from somewhere else.

              If in the future, the Chinese are a really powerful nation, then nationalizing their NZ assets only hurts us. If in the future the Chinese are a really weak nation, then we can nationalize their NZ assets with impunity.

  6. Bill 6

    So does the concern about the foreign ownership scenario extend to NZ companies buying up dairy farms in S. America?

    Or is it only a matter worthy of consideration when it’s NZ being bought and sold?

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      Of course it does Bill. If it’s bad for us then it’s bad for them as well and for the same reasons.

      It’s more a question of how many and who will actually admit that.

      • insider 6.1.1

        What if it were a 999 year lease?

        • Draco T Bastard 6.1.1.1

          It would still be bad for us as our resources would then be used to benefit someone else.

          • insider 6.1.1.1.1

            So similarly your house/property is ‘ours’ I assume. do I get a cut when you rent/sell it? because I wouldn’t want “our” house benefitting someone else, such as you or the family who buys it.

            • Bill 6.1.1.1.1.1

              “do I get a cut when you rent/sell it? because I wouldn’t want “our” house benefitting someone else, such as you or the family who buys it.”

              And there is the signposting of a number of problems inherent to private ownership. Resources aren’t utilised efficiently or with an eye to what is best for society, but only what is best for the owner(s) and then usually only on a financial level. And whereas ownership confers decision making capacity, it sets up an inevitable conflict with genuine democratic concerns. And benefits flow to a minority while the majority get nothing beyond picking up externalised costs such as environmental downsides etc.

          • Richard 6.1.1.1.2

            Regardless of whether a Chinese company or a NZ company owns the land, roughly the same customers will receive the benefit of the land; i.e. some relatively wealthy subset of consumers (probably in China) who buy the milk products.

            Likewise regardless of whether a Chinese or NZ company owns the land, roughly the same number of people will be employed working the land, and they will likely be the same people in either situation; barring a few executives, perhaps.

            Regardless of whether a Chinese or NZ company owns the land, roughly the same amount will be spent in NZ on farming the land (on fertilizer, farm machinery, etc).

            The only difference is where any profit flows (which you say is not a resource). And it doesn’t really seem to make much difference whether the profit goes to a group of wealthy people in NZ or a wealthy group in China; in either case the benefit of the wealth is not seen by the majority of NZers.

            • prism 6.1.1.1.2.1

              Thanks for spelling it out Richard. It is a fine thing to be able to indulge in terse dialectic while the rest of the country has to manage the realities that you spell out.

              The NZ wealthy can feel part of the country and wish to live and invest here, foreigners may also, or just want to profit with as little benefit to the country and its people as possible.

              • ZB

                You are in error. If ‘owners’ all live overseas and little money cycled through the economy you would expect low wages, youth being attracted overseas, highly wealthy retirers….

                What stops the government writing more money, creating jobs, and so diluting the value to the external economy? Also what happens when people here cannot buy NZ carpet so they have to import carpet?
                Someone taking profits out will find they are harmed by a lack of local manufacturing exporters, and a government having to increase spending to placate its voters, with a higher risk premium on their investment.

                With trustworthy journalism, who don’t peddle the foreign investment interest, one could see the voters electing a party that made their government more like the N.European model.
                Its as easy as NOT importing big country economic policies, and implement small country
                success stories – ask ACT for their policies and ignore all of them.

                It looks like we’ve gone too far, already owned by too many foriegners. The way out is
                too vote Green, start taking your economic activity away from foriegn owner banks,
                finance, fast food, etc, etc. Rebuild the economy without the infectious agents.
                The foriegn owners will then demand, too cut their losses, that government build
                a viable local economy and stop shortchanging them, something like an edict
                in the unwritten constitution against hiring currency speculators and their ilk.

                Saddam was on able to stay in power because he had a army of yes men who
                made money off Saddam Inc and shorthchanging Saddam the most!

                • Richard

                  You are in error. If ‘owners’ all live overseas and little money cycled through the economy you would expect low wages, youth being attracted overseas, highly wealthy retirers….

                  Most of the money that passes through a dairy company is not profit though.

                  Most of the money is spent in the local economy on supporting manufacture or production. It doesn’t matter who the owners are, if the company is in NZ most of the money will be spent in country.

                  Also, if the commie Chinese owners are really not especially interested in profit (because they have access to interest free money), but instead interested in security, quantity and quality of supply, then they would logically be less likely to cream off lots of profit, and would rather invest in ensuring supply. Which means lots of local expenditure.

    • RedLogix 6.2

      No all foreign investment is bad ipso facto.

      In the case where it creates new greenfield infrastructure and broadens the local enconomy then it is worthwhile. That may well be the case for our private sector involvement in Sth American dairying.

      But the CCP directly buying up NZ’s largest, most strategic and mature dairying assets definitely fails such a test.

      • insider 6.2.1

        LEt’s get this in perspective – the Crafar farm business was a failure. It’s scale did not make it a quality or sustainable business. I believe part of the reason it was a failure was that much of it was marginal dairying land. If true, it was neither strategic nor mature

        • rosy 6.2.1.1

          They were mortgaged to the tune of $200million – I’d guess poor lending decsions by banks played a big part in the failure

  7. Richard 7

    But letting a foreign government – it doesn’t matter which government – buy up our primary export industry is a strategic mistake.

    Not necessarily. If we jump the right way it could be a tremendous strategic triumph.

    Although it certainly wasn’t a voluntary decision, NZ when all is said and done benefited tremendously from being a British colony. Sure, there were costs, but there were also benefits. Likewise, we benefited tremendously from being part of the US sphere; particularly because being on the periphery we have some “independence”.

    The same thing will likely be true of China. Think ahead fifty or hundred years from now. Will we be better off as an peripheral economic colony of China or not? The answer, of course, depends on how the international scene plays out. However, if things play out how China wants, then there will be tremendous benefit in being part of their sphere.

    • insider 7.1

      ah yes, like the good old mutual co-prosperity sphere… 🙂

      • Richard 7.1.1

        Well exactly. And (like the rest of the Asia-Pacific region) we chose to not be in Japan’s Mutual Co-Prosperity Sphere.

        However, we chose instead to be a part of the Anglo-American sphere. Or in the case of China, they chose, to kind of uneasily sit alongside it. We have subsequently benefited heaps from being part of the Anglo-American sphere…and ironically Japan has also eventually benefited heaps from being a powerful regional player in the Anglo-American sphere.

        The question is what will the situation be like in 50-100 years time.

        • insider 7.1.1.1

          And my answer is – ‘Dunno’.

          Go back 50 or 100 years and see if any of the predictions then were remotely close to what the world is like. That will tell you whether it is worthwhile making decisions today on trying to second guess the future. (No doubt one would have got it right, a la monkeys with typewriters, but is that the one that you’d have chosen?)

          • Richard 7.1.1.1.1

            Look back 50-100 years ago, and you’ll find people deliberately planning for and setting out to make NZ an exporter of agricultural products.

            Whether that was a good strategy or not is perhaps a matter for debate. However, how our economy works is not an accident.

            Of course people made right and wrong bets on various specific technologies and products, but the general thrust that “we will grow stuff” and “we will get it in as good a quality as possible to an overseas market” has been deliberate.

    • Loota 7.2

      It would be an interesting play, this one. We would have to be very smart about it as decisions made and frameworks set up must be in our long term national interests.

  8. rich 8

    Whoever owns the farms, they’ll want to produce as much milk as possible and sell it for as much as possible. If milk gets expensive and they sell it into China at under market price, then they’re losing money just as much as if they bought it at auction.

    *All* businesses are evil given the chance. They need to be taxed and regulated to mitigate this. That goes whether its a Chinese multinational or a good old boy from Eketahuna.

    If anything, a foreign owner is better because they can’t wrap themselves in the flag and tug the heartstrings (with the avid assistance of our 100% foreign owned media, of course)

  9. Cactus Kate 9

    “China’s approach is different. It is less concerned with political control. It just wants to buy up supply chains”.

    What would you rather they do? Let a billion+ people starve and run amok. China is looking after its people, unlike Africa where they take aid, steal it or buy weapons. Food for the people and supply chains for it is the last thing on their minds in Africa.

    You lefties are never happy.

    • nzfp 9.1

      I don’t support China buying up New Zealand but consider this:
      Chinese at our door with fists full of cash wanting to negotiate deals to buy stuff
      The USA at our door with fists full of guns wanting to blow us away and steal our natural resources (Iraq/Afghanistan)

      I don’t want either but I know which one looks more appealing.

      B.T.W. what’s a leftie?

      • rosy 9.1.1

        I have no problem with China’s approach to supporting its people, but I do have a problem with us taking the cash and possibly reducing the ability of New Zealand to support its people

        • nzfp 9.1.1.1

          Same and I applaud the Chinese for looking after their people – I wonder if our own government could take a leaf out of their book and look after us 😉

    • Blighty 9.2

      No-one’s saying China’s being evil, cactus. They’re looking after their interests. We should look after ours.

      • Richard 9.2.1

        Why do you think that our interests are incompatible with Chinese ownership?

        Regardless of who owns the farms, the milk production (assuming they remain dairy) is ultimately going to be consumed off-shore. Even if the farms switch to some other kind of agriculture, the consumers will be based overseas.

        As long as the farms are located in NZ they will be subject to the same employment laws, environmental laws, etc as any other farm. What’s the problem with foreign ownership?

        • The Chairman 9.2.1.1

          Ponder this:

          With large productive ownership comes political influence, and there’s already a political aspiration.

          What affect will this political influence have on the laws they will be subject too?

          • Richard 9.2.1.1.1

            And how is this different to the current situation?

            What will make Chinese dairy owners “worse” (or better depending on your perspective) at manipulating local laws in their favour, than (say) Fonterra.

            • The Chairman 9.2.1.1.1.1

              The Chinese abuse human rights and are known for corruption. Do you really wish to allow their political influence to take growth here?

              • Richard

                I see, that’s an excellent point.

                Further to that I’ll add that: Americans are “obese, gunslinging morons”, and Italians are “corrupt and lazy, but well-dressed”, the French are “chain-smoking sexpots that smell of garlic”, and New Zealanders are “ignorant, racist, rugby players who have a noble sense of fair play and a love of extreme sports”.

    • mouse 9.3

      “Cheng Siwei, head of China’s green energy drive, told me last week that eco-damage of 13.5pc of GDP each year outstrips China’s growth rate of 10pc. National wealth is contracting. “We have an intangible environmental debt that we are leaving to our children,” he said. So does India. Much of the globe is stealing food from the future”

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/7997910/The-backlash-begins-against-the-world-landgrab.html

      So where is this going Kate?… can you think beyond Left vs Right Dogma.

      • Cactus Kate 9.3.1

        http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/harvard-endowment-fund-keen-natural-resources-129908

        How come no one is questioning the Harvard Endowment Fund in the same way as they look to “gobble up” natural resources with their large economic power?

        Left v Right? Well I can see through that. There are plenty on the supposed “right” that cannot view the argument outside of Nationalist concerns. The difference I guess is that the right don’t go around hugging trees and chanting “Feed the world”, then getting upset when China uses its own money to secure food supply lines for its own people.

  10. Adrian 10

    China or the Chinese Govt disguised as private enterprise owns and controls the whole chain so that it can transfer price, i.e, lose money on NZ production = tax credit in NZ , collect tax on end sale in China. Money for jam (milk) and us stupid bastards are paying for it. How do you lose money on milk in NZ? Easy, charge big interest, payable in China, downgrade milk or milk product quality leaving factory, cheat anyway you can, perfectly legitimate capitalist behaviour. Wake up, we are in the middle of a soft war and we are fucking losing. The only thing I find amusing is why their front person, May Jang, is seemingly so incompetent and compromised.

    • prism 10.1

      Hey Adrian that’s a scary scenario and I recognise it. The oil companies played around with value as they transferred product from the originating country to their final market. The Australians were complaining about it in the early 70’s. We’d be gutted if it happened to our dairy industry.

      • nzfp 10.1.1

        Fascinating what cartels can do when they control the entire production chain. They can even offset costs so that the majority of costs “occur” in productions centers in countries that have zero or near zero corporate tax meaning they pay near zero taxes across the entire production chain.

        For eample NZ may have a 20% corporate tax but Kiribati has 1% corporate tax then the transnational could claim that purchase costs in Kiribati resulted in a net loss when components were transported from NZ to Kiribati making taxes on profits zero in NZ.

        Yeah it is scary alright.

        • insider 10.1.1.1

          It’s only scary if you don’t understand what the consequences are. Transfer pricing is something the IRD keep a very, very close eye on, so I wouldn’t worry too much.

          Trying to charge an artificially low/high price will soon be obvious, particularly as it will be happening in a number of places (if a multinational) and it only takes one country to find it for every other country to start asking for a close look at the books. Just not worth the hassle.

          • The Chairman 10.1.1.1.1

            The multibillion-dollar web search giant Google paid less income tax in New Zealand last year than the average construction worker or teacher
            http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/3832727/Sales-set-up-makes-wealthy-Google-a-Kiwi-tax-lightweight

          • Loota 10.1.1.1.2

            These people have better lawyers and accountants than the IRD can afford.

          • Adrian 10.1.1.1.3

            Bullshit about the IRD keeping an eye on it, Google paid 7K tax in NZ last year because all NZ ads have to be booked and paid for in Ireland, the international rest homes owners are doing it , probably by charging themselves big interest and management fees paid offshore, (btw , this is an election winner for Winston as hes already fired the first shot) and the big wine companies are doing it with Marlborough Sav Blanc, not all of bulk surplus is “low quality juice”, ( theres really no such thing with MSB) it’s top quality exported at $1.50 a litre when it should be $5-6 , run thru a couple of company owned shell companies in say Ireland (12% tax) while in transit where it’s value trebles, bottled in GB or US and flogged off for the top dollar, currently $8.50-$9 a litre. IT IS FUCKING THEFT. The Chinese are going to do it with milk, they want to do it with our coal and don’t forget it was Rudds downfall, trying to get 40 billion a year that the mining companies had been scamming

    • Richard 10.2

      Security of supply is solely what China is after.

      They have a big population, insufficient local resources, and (ironically) a deficit of manpower. Profit is the last of their concerns.

  11. Carol 11

    How much is the issue to do with China alone, and how much is it to do with the whole neoliberal enterprise, with NACT more than happy to deliver NZ economic enterprises to powerful overseas interests from a range of countries?

    As I understand it, Chinese companies are not the only overseas interests buying into NZ farms. And, also, if you like at the line-up of companies that have recently been added as contenders for producing new Auckland rail stock (probably due to NZ government interference?), it includes, Chinese, Japanese and Aussie companies:

    http://blog.labour.org.nz/index.php/2010/09/13/just-what-deals-are-being-done-to-build-trains-for-auckland/

    Although, the problem with Chinese companies is that they are government controled in ways that the Aussie & Japanese comanies are not.

  12. prism 12

    Tuesday a.m. A piece on Green Monkey NZ food enterprise company. It cannot sell successfully in USA as there are too many interests wanting ‘to clip the ticket’
    and trying to get volume and force the price down because they want to make 2 for 1 offers etc.

    But there is good demand in China,because all the ingredients and production are from New Zealand. The consumer in China does not have the faith in their own manufacturers that they feel for NZ product. Would be a shame to have foreign companies introduce fraudulent approaches and besmirch our clean, green and ‘with integrity’ standing.

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