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Foreign investment not so sweet for canefarmers

Editorial
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Tom Harney, chairman of the Tully Canegrowers Association is calling for greater control to be placed on foreign companies that purchase Australian food processing plants.

Harney explains that cane farmers from Northern Queensland have found it difficult to enforce verbal commitments and written agreements since the Chinese government-owned China oilseed and Food Corporation (COFCO) purchased the Tully sugar mill in 2011.

Harney says that the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) should continue to supervise foreign companies that choose to purchase key Australian assets for an extended period after the initial sale has been approved. He has also suggested that stakeholders including farmers and associated communities should be able to voice their views to the FIRB within the first year of purchase, The Australian Reports.

"Foreign investment in Australia is what this country needs - we are not saying 'no foreigners' - but how do we enforce control over these people and make them stick to their agreements?" Harney told The Australian.

"They might have all the best intentions in the world when they buy, but when a state-owned company like COFCO comes into a country like Australia, they have a different culture and different way of doing business; and I don't think that is always in the long-term national interest.

"We have found it is much more difficult to negotiate with a foreign company - and we have the Chinese government on top of it as well - and that's why it's an issue that we need to be considering more in Australia right now."

Harney says that some of the 200 canegrowers that supply the Tully sugar mill are now suck in a battle with COFCO over funding for the expansion of the sugar mill that was promised by the company back in 2011.

However Alick Osborne, Tully Sugar chief executive said that local growers were partly to blame in the failure of COFCO to fully fund the sugar mill’s expansion as farmers allegedly supplied cane train bins filled with waste.

In addition to the expansion debacle, COFCO is allegedly planning to purchase approximately 800ha of disused cane land to grow its own sugar - placing it in direct competition to local canegrowers. 

photo credit: tinyfroglet via photopin cc

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