Chinese appetite for investing in New Zealand assets is stepping up according to leading Auckland lawyers Martin Thomson and Terence Ng.
The pair - both lawyers at DLA Phillips Fox - point to current interest in tourism assets (China is a growing source of visitors to New Zealand); food production - where three Chinese firms are now invested in dairy processing; property development - where with Auckland's population projections there is potential for Chinese capital to contribute; and infrastructure.
"There is an appetite to live in New Zealand and a growing group of affluent Chinese are looking to invest here in advance of moving to NZ," says Thomson, a partner in the firm. "Pollution in China is very serious. They like to bring their children here to live, in addition they can invest here and live in New Zealand and they are happy to do so."
DLA Phillips Fox acted for Shanghai-listed Bright Dairy when it acquired a controlling interest in NZ's Synlait Milk. More recently it advised Chinese dairy company Yashili on its successful application to the Overseas Investment Office to build a $212 million milk processing plant at Pokeno.
The firm works closely with DLA Piper's offices in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Special counsel Ng, who is fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese, also advised Chinese whiteware manufacturer Haier on its initial acquisition of a minority interest in Fisher & Paykel Appliances (while at another law firm).
Ng says New Zealand businesspeople should not assume the Chinese investor knows a lot about this country. "They need to be prepared to sell New Zealand and all it has to offer, the selling points are the quality of our products and the competence in our business culture, legal and financial system."
Thomson says one of the challenges is matching New Zealand investment opportunities with Chinese appetite.
The two business cultures are very different and New Zealand companies have much to learn about their counterparts. Chinese businesses should also consider partnering.
The recent Pengxin acquisition of 16 dairy farms formerly owned by Allan Crafar resulted in significant changes to the overseas investment regime. The upshot is many prospective offshore acquirers (not simply from China) must be able to show the OIO how their ownership will add more value to a prospective asset than if it simply changed hands within New Zealand. This applies to where the asset size is above a certain threshold or where its sits on sensitive land.
Demonstrating the potential to increase productivity is not a simple matter. "The Pengxin case has ramped up the amount of preparation needed for the OIO," says Thomson. "You can't underestimate how thorough you need to be now, as they go through it in huge detail."
He says the Yashili deal is immensely valuable for Pokeno as it will employ a large number of people to manufacture product using NZ-generated milk. "They'll pay tax here as well."
Thomson believes the new OIO regime works but cautions that investors do need to understand the process and thresholds where they kick in. "One area that is challenging is with an investment in an asset, which is a developed asset where there is not a lot of potential to enhance its productivity."
He cites forestry and also vineyard transactions which have to be offered to the NZ market first and where there are not the investors with the necessary capital.
"To say 'only New Zealand buyers' - because overseas buyers can't get over the threshold is hugely damaging to value."