Overseas investment rules in New Zealand's forests will be changed as the Government prepares to bring in changes to promote genuine benefits for New Zealanders.
Associate Finance Minister David Parker announced yesterday the Bill putting in place the Government's policy of banning overseas buyers of existing houses had been reported back to Parliament by the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee.
Forestry rights, the means of buying forests, needed to be covered by the Bill. A light-handed regime would be applied to encourage foreign direct investment into forests, he said.
Stakeholders had provided feedback saying the existing screening regime for overseas investment in freehold and leasehold land could take a long time and involve significant expense.
In most cases, overseas investors who wanted to invest in freehold and leasehold sensitive forestry land for forestry purposes generally needed to go through a screening process and get consent from the Overseas Investment Office (OIO).
However, those acquiring forestry rights, which in practice could grant the investor a high degree of control over large parcels of land for long periods of time were not.
Papers released by the minister showed the Government's view was leaving forestry rights out of the screening regime made the regime inconsistent and less effective. The rights provided their holders similar control as freehold and leasehold interests in land.
Under the Bill, an overseas investor acquiring forestry rights of 1000ha or more within a calendar year would need to seek consent from the OIO.
Acquisitions of less than 1000ha within a calendar year would not be screened. If an overseas investor acquired rights over 1000ha or more in a calendar year, only the transaction taking the total over 1000ha and any subsequent acquisitions would be screened. Previous acquisitions below 1000ha would not be screened.
The stakeholders most affected by the changes would be owners of land, including iwi, being used at present for forestry or intended to be converted to forestry, those wanting to invest in other areas of the industry, owners of relevant land and overseas people who were potential investors.
Forestry Minister Shane Jones said the Bill recognised the importance of forestry investment to New Zealanders.
''I am confident it's struck the right balance that will boost forestry investment while ensuring the regime cannot be bypassed.''
High-quality overseas investment in forestry would be an important part of achieving the Government's One Billion Trees planting programme and would also promote economic development opportunities in the region, he said.
Some key changes made to the Bill included increasing investors' flexibility in obtaining consent and removing unnecessary red tape. Investors could choose from any of three different tests when seeking to acquire forestry land or rights.
The Bill ensured investors and landowners could make minor changes to their agreements without unnecessarily having to return to the Government to obtain consent.
''I'm pleased with the approach the Bill takes with regards to overseas investment into forestry and believe the sector as a whole has an exciting future ahead,'' Mr Jones said.
Forest Owners Association figures showed more than 1.7billion ha of New Zealand land planted in forests and the industry last year contributed $3.6billion to New Zealand's gross domestic product (GDP), or about 3%.