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Arkansas orders Chinese-owned company to sell farmland

A new wave of laws in the state specifically targets foreign investments from China, Iran, North Korea and Russia.
Arkansas orders Chinese-owned company to sell farmland
Posted at 8:20 AM, Oct 19, 2023

Arkansas on Tuesday ordered the subsidiary of a Chinese-owned company to divest itself of 160 acres of agricultural land, the first such action under a wave of new laws across the country restricting foreign ownership of farmland.

Attorney General Tim Griffin said Northrup King Seed Co. has two years to divest the property in Craighead County under legislation passed by the majority-Republican Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders earlier this year.

Northrup is a subsidiary of Syngenta Seeds, which is owned by China National Chemical Company, or ChemChina, a Chinese state-owned company.

“We will make sure that every company operating in Arkansas is a friend to Arkansas and good to hard-working Arkansans,” Sanders at a news conference with Griffin to announce the move.

SEE MORE: Why is China buying up US farmland?

Syngenta said it was disappointed in the state's decision about its land, which the company has owned since 1988. The company said no one from China has ever directed its executives to buy, lease or otherwise engage in land acquisition.

“Our people in Arkansas are Americans led by Americans who care deeply about serving Arkansas farmers. This action hurts Arkansas farmers more than anyone else," the company said.

Concern has been growing in many states about foreign ownership of farmland. Prior to this year, 14 states had laws prohibiting or restricting foreign ownership and investments in private farmland. But that ballooned to 24 states this year as lawmakers in nearly three-quarters of states considered legislation on the topic, according to The National Agriculture Law Center at the University of Arkansas.

The enforcement action by Arkansas’ attorney general is the first under the wave of new laws, many of which specifically targeted investments from China, Iran, North Korea and Russia, said Micah Brown, a staff attorney at the agricultural law center.

“Historically, states that had a law before this year, there wasn’t much enforcement,” said Micah Brown, a staff attorney at the agricultural law center.

SEE MORE: US-China relations unsteady: Commerce Sec. Raimondo heads to Beijing

Under the Arkansas law, if a company doesn’t divest of the land, the state can take action in court. Griffin did not say whether the state has identified other foreign-owned land that would prompt similar action under the new law.

The state also fined Syngenta $280,000 for not reporting its foreign ownership under a 2021 state law, which gives the company 30 days to pay the fine. Syngenta said Tuesday the company updated its filing with the U.S. Department of Agriculture after an internal review reflecting the change in ownership, and has also filed a copy with the state.

Griffin said he had “full confidence” the company would divest itself of the property and pay the fine, but declined to say whether he has had any conversations with Syngenta.

The surge in state laws targeting land ownership by certain foreigners represents a “a political flashpoint” that Brown says stems from some highly publicized cases of Chinese-connected entities purchasing land near military bases in North Dakota and Texas. The trek of a suspected Chinese spy balloon across the U.S. in February also spurred interest in restrictions in some states.

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