At a press conference to unveil the coalition government agreement Winston Peters said New Zealand is no longer open for sale "in the way that it has been".

That is clearly the case with the new Government intent on ensuring New Zealanders - and NZ companies - are not priced off the market when it comes to acquiring assets here.

But it is a change to the status quo.

The NZ First leader's comments resulted in some jittery nerves among various companies who currently have assets on the block.


Advisory firms have pointed me to at least three major transactions which are currently stalled in front of the Overseas Investment Office (OIO).

These include a block of dairy farms currently held by an offshore owner, a quarry business and another asset class I have agreed to keep confidential. All are over the $100 million mark; and in two cases operate on "sensitive land".

Currently, consent from the Minister of Finance is required for assets or securities selling for more than $100m or when establishing a business with expenditure of more than $100m. Although in practice, this consent has often been delegated.

The general nervousness has been amped up by comments from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggesting the OIO is simply a rubber stamp in her view.

Getting to grips with the new Government's position on foreign investment is no easy matter.

While Labour, NZ First and the Greens had each staked out positions on foreign investment during the election campaign, the coalition announcements are still to be fleshed out with further detail.

Most of the public focus has been on the plan to legislate to stop foreigners buying New Zealand residential houses, and for the OIO to assess farms that are larger than five hectares.

Ardern has said she wants to reopen negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) at the Apec Leaders meeting to try to achieve a carve-out for the Government's intention to ban foreigners from acquiring NZ residential houses.

Getting a "fix", so that NZ can sign up to TPP-11 (if it does come off) is not beyond the realms of NZ's negotiators.

But the issue goes much further that trading residential property.

In discussions with Economic Development Minister David Parker it is clear the Government intends to add a "national interest" test when it comes to assessing major transactions involving foreign buyers.

Defining the "national interest" is not straight-forward.

It would appear there is some concern at the potential for offshore owners to acquire "monopoly infrastructure" assets, or that they be acquired by overseas state-owned enterprises which may have different drivers than privately-owned companies.

This has been a major issue in Australia where the Treasurer - who is advised by the Foreign Investment Review Board (Firb) - can now reference an unpublished list of strategic assets (as does the Firb).

Earlier this year, Australia ordered a sweeping security review of its critical infrastructure.

As the Financial Times reported Treasurer Scott Morrison had earlier blocked the sale of Ausgrid both to China's State Grid Corporation and Hong Kong-based Cheung Kong Infrastructure over national security concerns, as well as the A$370m ($413m) sale of S Kidman & Co, one of the country's biggest landholders, to Shanghai Pengxin Group. (Cheung Kong - now CK Infrastructure Holdings - owns the Wellington Electricity Lines company along with Power Assets Holdings).

Such matters were addressed in Labour's election policies so it should be no surprise the Government plans action when it comes to the sale of "farms, homes, state-owned enterprises, and monopoly infrastructure" to overseas buyers, and to set up a register of foreign owners and require the sale of logging rights to also come under the OIO's scrutiny.

Parker says the Overseas Investment Act will be amended to give effect to the Government's intentions.

During the election campaign, Peters also railed against the fact that three major Chinese SOEs had invested in New Zealand's dairy industry and staked out a concern about the potential for vertical integration to deprive this country of revenues from a prime export industry. This is more complex.

The previous Government had stopped one Chinese company from investing in a processing plant because it shared this concern.

But it remains a minefield as the bilateral free trade deal with China - which Labour negotiated - created an expectation that both countries are open for reciprocal investment.

Parker is unabashed when comes to investing in farmland over 5ha. The sale of iconic NZ stations to wealthy offshore investors clearly sticks in his craw.

He wants New Zealanders to be able to buy such assets, and, for younger New Zealanders to be able to buy farms if the price reduces once offshore buying pressure is removed.

The OIO currently sits within the portfolio realm of a Green Party Minister who holds the Land Information portfolio outside of Cabinet.

But such fundamental policy shifts should be front and centre for senior Cabinet Ministers.

The market would be relieved if Finance Minister Grant Robertson sent a signal he does not plan to delegate his own authority in this area to another junior minister. And that he and Parker detail the changes as soon as possible.