How much land do foreigners own in the United States?
UPDATE: A Chinese-owned slaughterhouse in America is now being sued for negligence that enabled the spread of COVID-19 among their workforce.
At the time of this report, roughly 27.3 million acres of American land is currently held in the hands of foreign corporations. Much of that land is owned by America’s economic rivals in China. To put this scale in perspective, that amount of land is equal to roughly the entire state of Ohio. It’s almost four times the state of Massachusetts, more than three times the state of Maryland, and approaching twice as much as the state of West Virginia.
But for the visual readers out there, here’s a graphic.
America Is Exploited Like A Third World Colony
Brazilians target our beef and meatpackers, Chinese chase our hogs, and Canadians await with ax-in-hand to chop our forests in future logging endeavors. In a sense, we’re exploited like a third world colony. And we let it happen.
In just one sale taking place in 2013, a Chinese conglomerate purchased 146,000 acres of prime US farmland. All together, commercial land held by foreigners is worth over $52 billion, but to make matters worse, these businesses enjoy subsidies just like any other American owned enterprise. They also receive bailouts and emergency protection in instances like the current nationwide quarantine. In 2018, JBS, a Brazilian-owned meatpacking company, received $5 million in bailouts from the Trump Administration’s agricultural bill. JBS is a corrupt corporation which was prosecuted by the Brazilian government after they were caught bribing meat inspectors to ignore the sale of spoiled and sub-standard meat.
At one point, American cattle breeders cried out for help from the Trump administration, begging them to block the sale of one of the world’s largest beef packing corporations. The sale of the National Beef Packing Company was allowed to go through, despite a statement from Marco Rubio (the stalwart defender of free trade, of all people) citing the risks to our nation’s food supply. Is this the America First people voted for?
If you look at individual states, things become even more alarming. A full 15% of Maine’s agricultural land is owned by foreigners—in this case Canadians purchasing large swaths of forest for logging endeavors (forestry and logging is part of the agriculture sector). If you look at particular sectors of the meat industry, things don’t get any better either. Earlier it was mentioned that one particular sale to China granted them 146,000 acres of American farmland. What was left out of that description was the primary focus of the deal: Smithfield Foods.
“China Came into Possession Of 1 out of every 4 pigs raised in the united states”“
How China acquired some of our best farmland and largest factories:
With that purchase of Smithfield Foods, China not only bought the biggest slaughterhouse in America (and the world), but also came into possession of one out of every four pigs raised in the United States—a significant market share of our meat industry at a time when shortages are foremost on the minds of every citizen. China, the worlds single-largest consumer of pork, can proudly boast that one out of every two pigs raised on the planet ends up on a Chinese dinner table.
Some logical people—the non-political folks with too much commonsense to destroy a country—might view this as a national security risk. And they’d be correct. China, on the other hand, views the purchase of foreign agricultural land as a national security mandate. Their twelfth five-year plan, issued in 2011, ordered all Chinese businesses to begin purchasing as much foreign agricultural land as possible. At that time, China’s holdings in America were worth roughly $81 million. By 2012, that number had grown tenfold, and they were steadily climbing to $1 billion in holdings. The deal for Smithfield in 2013 added another $480 million to their holdings—that’s the dollar value for the land only, when accounting for the warehouses and factories that went with it, another $6 billion in value can be factored in.
The sale of America’s breadbasket has been largely (and shamefully) facilitated by Republicans in Congress. In the sale of Smithfield Foods, Republican Senator Pat Roberts openly mocked his colleagues on both sides of the aisle for raising questions about national security. Tag-teaming with Larry Pope, then-CEO of Smithfield, the two convinced the legislature that there was nothing to fear.
“These are not Russian communists,” Pope said, “they like Americans.” Senator Roberts responded, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “did you realize you were the victim of a Chinese communist plot? And the control of your company would somehow allow China to control the pork industry?”
Pope used that moment to get the senators to laugh. And then, he lied. He claimed that Shuanghui, the Chinese firm now known as the WH Group, was not controlled by the Chinese government. The reality was far different than the tale Pope spun. In fact, Wan Long, the firm’s chairman, was a member of the National People’s Congress. He’s a true fanatic, and as a youth he was a Mao foot soldier.
Now here’s the killer part: Pope was asked why he couldn’t simply sell American pork to Chinese markets. His response? The Chinese would never allow an American company to take a stake in their pork business. Yet here was the head of America’s largest pork producer, standing before our legislature, attempting to hand the business over to the Chinese. The irony was lost on his audience.
As for Senator Roberts, his motivations were simple. As a senator from one of the nation’s largest producers of livestock feed, the expansion of the pork industry—whether by the hand of an American or a foreigner—benefited the interest groups supporting his reelection campaign. It’s worth noting that Roberts has been put in charge of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
These foreign land holdings carry with them a wide array of consequences—both economic and environmental. The former is quite easily understood, particularly under the current conditions wherein Americans are rightfully concerned about ongoing meat shortages (a large percentage of our meat industry, too, is now owned by foreign enterprises). The latter should also be easily understood: how can we count on foreigners, with no stock in the future of our country, to be good stewards of our land? Doubts in their competency on this measure are particularly valid when we consider how poorly nations such as China have managed their own resources.
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Residential Property Owned By Foreigners, A Quick Rundown:
Before wrapping up with some possible policy suggestions, a quick dive into foreign non-commercial real estate holdings might be worthwhile. China purchased $13.4 billion worth of residential properties between April 2018 and March 2019. All together, foreigners purchased 183,000 residential properties during that time frame. Between the same months in the previous year, China purchased a little more than double that dollar value.
But it isn’t just China. Indian nationals purchased $6.9 billion, Mexicans $2.3 billion, and Canadians $8 billion—all between 2018 and 2019. One out of five of these foreign nationals made purchases in Florida—that’s where 42% of Canadian purchases took place. One in three Chinese buyers bought homes in California. And Indian and Mexican buyers favored Texas as their residence away from home.
So what are the alternative solutions?
Well, for one thing, China has a particularly crafty way of handling foreign investment. In almost all cases, from McDonald’s to Disney, companies are forced to enter into partnership arrangements where a Chinese enterprise is the majority owner. Often these breakdowns come out to a 51/49 split. A similar path forward is worth considering. But it isn’t the only option.
Six states currently have laws that restrict or prohibit the sale of farmland to foreigners: Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. A federal law blanketing all 50 states with this sort of protective regulation would at least insulated one of our most critical resources.
Then, there’s a third path forward, we can force foreign investment to be governed by lease agreements—setting the terms for temporary custody with a reasonable expiration date of no more than 20 years, with strict regulatory oversight for foreign-run businesses to prevent mismanagement.
There’s certainly other arrangements that could be considered. But we have to do something.