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NZ speeds up foreign investment process, raises fees

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"We've heard concerns from investors that the rationale for screening certain investment types is unclear and decisions by the OIO are taking too long," Finance Minister Bill English said in a statement, referring to New Zealand's Overseas Investment Office.

[WELLINGTON] New Zealand announced plans on Thursday to speed up the approval process for inward foreign investment, addressing complaints, also made against the Australia government, that the vetting process is taking too long.

New Zealand, like Australia, had seen increased interest from Chinese investors in recent years, though the majority of foreign investment still comes from North America. "We've heard concerns from investors that the rationale for screening certain investment types is unclear and decisions by the OIO are taking too long," Finance Minister Bill English said in a statement, referring to New Zealand's Overseas Investment Office.

Mr English said the government would introduce exemptions for certain types of investments, without giving details.

He also said application fees would be increased by as much as 166 per cent to help pay for a 25 per cent increase in staff and to shorten the processing time.

The OIO, which is responsible for signing off on 'sensitive' assets such as farm land and high value businesses, approved 129 foreign investments in 2015, down from 148 the previous year.

The office ejected one application in 2015, and none in 2014.

Australia also has been criticized for its slow and uncertain process for establishing whether foreign investments were in the 'national interest'.

Last week, the sale of the country's largest private land holder, S Kidman & Co, to a Chinese-led consortium was blocked for a second time, in a saga that has run for more than six months.

Ownership of farmland is a sensitive issue in Australia, and the decision to block the sale comes just weeks before the country holds federal elections.

Australia's Foreign Investment Review Board, which is responsible for assessing a far wider range of investments, including residential real estate, saw applications rise to 37,000 in 2015 from 23,000 the year before, largely driven by foreigners buying property.

The board had rejected no applications last year, compared with three the previous year, according to its annual report.

REUTERS