Chinese firm wins approval to buy dairy farms in New Zealand

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A Chinese investment company won approval for a second time Friday to buy 16 dairy farms in New Zealand after a court challenge forced the country's government to review its original decision in favor of the purchase.

Shanghai Pengxin was given the green light to buy the farms for around $163 million (U.S) after officials imposed strict conditions relating to investment in the land and protection of sensitive sites.

New Zealand is the only Western nation to have a free-trade agreement with China, its second-biggest export customer behind Australia.

Chinese firms already have significant holdings in New Zealand, but the sale of rural and coastal land to foreign interests is a sensitive issue in a country where agriculture dominates the economy. New Zealand is the world's largest exporter of dairy goods.

"The combined effect of the benefits being delivered to New Zealand as a result of this transaction is substantial," Associate Finance Minister Jonathan Coleman said in a statement.

Shanghai Pengxin had said opposition to its purchase of the farms was partly motivated by anti-Chinese sentiment, and had warned that a refusal would likely deter other foreign investors.

It has promised to upgrade the farms, train New Zealanders to work on them, invest in a New Zealand processing plant and provide money to market the products in China.

Critics of the sale have questioned what expertise the Chinese group has in farming in New Zealand, where agriculture accounts for around half of the economic output.

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