Oct 17, 2023 - News

Arkansas AG orders Chinese company to sell land

A screenshot of a press conference where Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin speaks from the podium, flanked by Gov. Sanders, cabinet members and lawmakers.

Tim Griffin announces the order on Tuesday. Screenshot: Courtesy of the office of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin on Tuesday said he will require Northrup King Seed Co., a Chinese state-owned company, to sell 160 acres of land in the northeastern part of the state.

Why it matters: Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it's the first known instance of a state enforcing a law targeting land ownership by foreign countries the U.S. considers adversaries.

Catch up fast: Arkansas' new law bans a "prohibited foreign party-controlled" business from owning land in the state,

The big picture: State lawmakers across the U.S. have recently taken stances against foreign land ownership, largely targeting China.

  • A new Florida law bars most Chinese people who aren't U.S. citizens or permanent residents from owning property, Axios' Han Chen writes.
  • States including Texas, Louisiana and Alabama considered legislation this year that would prevent "foreign adversaries" from buying farmland.
  • Montana bans the sale or lease of agricultural land and homes near military assets to entities from six countries, including China.

Details: In a press conference, Griffin said the company — a subsidiary of Syngenta Group, which is owned by state-controlled China National Chemical Co. — will have two years to divest of the land in Craighead County.

  • He imposed a civil penalty of $280,000 — 25% of the property's fair market value — for failure to report foreign ownership in a timely manner, as required by a 2021 law.

What they're saying: In an emailed statement Syngenta told Axios the "shortsighted" order "fails to account for the effects of such an action, intended or not, on the U.S. agricultural market."

  • "No one from China has ever directed any Syngenta executive to buy, lease, or otherwise engage in land acquisition in the United States."
  • Syngenta, which has owned the land since 1988, uses it for research and development.
  • The company says it's required by law to develop and test products sold in the U.S. on U.S. soil and that it adheres to all laws, regulations and reviews.

The intrigue: Syngenta's parent company is "on the Department of Defense's list of Chinese military companies posing a clear threat to our state," Sanders said Tuesday.

  • "Seeds are technology. Chinese state-owned corporations filter that technology back to their homeland, stealing American research and telling our enemies how to target American farms."

By the numbers: Foreign investors — not necessarily all government-controlled — owned about 4 million acres of U.S. agricultural land in 2021, about 3.1% at the time, according to USDA.

  • China owned about 384,000 acres, slightly less than 1% of the foreign-held land.
  • Less than 5% of Arkansas farmland was owned by foreign investors.
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