Courting the Chinese: China is investing big money in farmland and Lambton wants something in return

Two Lambton County politicians say Chinese investors are ready to put lots of money into Ontario and they want to leverage that into jobs.

Lambton County Warden Todd Case recently returned from a nine-day trip to China with officials from Sarnia-Lambton Economic Development and Lambton College. The provincially-sponsored trade mission had an emphasis on petrochemicals. Case says while the Chinese are looking to invest in the petrochemical sector, they’re also eyeing Ontario’s agricultural land.

“The Chinese have been buying up Ontario’s farmland and they’ve also been buying up natural resources…They have an abundance of money and they want to invest that money and they look at Canada very favourably.”

A report in the Farmers Forum says a Montreal firm financed by Chinese investors wants to buy up to 40,000 acres of farmland in Canada. They have about $300 million to invest in Ontario and officials say it is only the beginning.

While Case is uncomfortable with foreign interest buying up Ontario farmland, he says there are no restrictions on it. “If the Chinese are going to come and invest and buy up some of our prime industrial land, there should be an investment on the other side back to us here in Ontario,” says Case.

“We need to say to them ‘Look, if you are buying up our resources, we need you to invest in the community providing jobs and other opportunities because if you’re going to buy resources in a country you need to be involved in that country, you have to be part of the solution as far as employment goes.

“I don’t think it (the buying of farmland) is a positive thing, but it is going to happen and we need to leverage whatever we can out of that side.”

Petrolia Mayor John McCharles is leaving for a business sponsored trade mission to China May 15. He says China’s – with a population of over 1.35 billion people – is simply looking outside its borders to support itself.

“What the Chinese are really in need of is food production and food processing because of the number of people they have and the country there, industry can’t produce enough food to look after themselves,” says McCharles.

In preparation for the trip, McCharles met with Tourism and Culture Minister Michael Chan. “Minister Chan says the big issue is food processing it takes a lot of money to develop new industry to process food, off the bat it’s not a money maker but he believes the Chinese are willing to invest because they want to take care of themselves.”

And that, both Case and McCharles say can be an opportunity for the province.

“It’s probably more advantageous for us because Chinese are looking to invest in Ontario and they want to know where they can benefit from coming to Ontario,” says McCharles. Case agrees. “It gives us a great opportunity to leverage some of those funds for investment in Ontario.”

But that investment won’t come immediately.

“Nothing is going to happen tomorrow; I’m not going to tell you that we’ve landed a great big contract; when you’re dealing with the Chinese one of the things that is part of their culture is trust and to develop those lines of trust,” says Case. “Now we have an idea of what they’re doing and how we might fit in…we’re starting to build relationships.”

– Heather Wright