Lawmakers consider foreign investment bills amidst flurry of news on China

Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 5:50 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - China has been on the minds of many North Dakotans this week. So, it’s fitting lawmakers would hear bills related to foreign agricultural investments in the state today.

Here’s a little recap of this week: on Monday, the Air Force determined that a proposed corn milling plant owned by a Chinese company in Grand Forks posed a serious threat to national security. Days later, a Chinese spy balloon was spotted over Montana, and today, the North Dakota House Agriculture Committee heard three bills that would prevent future deals like the one in Grand Forks from happening again.

After the Air Force’s letter sounding the alarm on the Fufeng project earlier this week, some North Dakotans say, the state’s land should belong to people in the state.

“When will North Dakota stop being North Dakota? When everybody else purchases it,” said Michael Coachman of Larimore.

That’s why three separate lawmakers brought three pretty similar bills that would bar purchases like the proposed Chinese corn milling plant in Grand Forks.

“I don’t really see why any foreign government should be buying agricultural land in North Dakota,” said Representative Klemin, R-Bismarck.

One of them, HB 1356, would create a new state agricultural investment review board, which would be the deciding body on if proposed acquisitions are in the best interest of the state.

“Regardless of whether you think the project was a good idea, many of my constituents and North Dakotans have limited faith in our federal government’s ability to review projects objectively,” said Representative Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown.

That one has the support of several people, including the ag commissioner.

“I believe the board would be beneficial and can have the ability to gather information and vet projects, then provide unbiased information back to the public instead of conjecture, fear, and conspiracies leading to public discussion,” said Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring.

But those opposed to this bill say creating a board like this wouldn’t solve the issue of foreign investment because the people who would sit on the board are the same people who oversee these sorts of investments right now.

“Many of these same people that we’re putting involved in this CFIUS North Dakota program, were the ones involved in the last scenario we had in Grand Forks, and so it really does not accomplish what we need to accomplish with our concerns and interests,” said Travis Zablotney, a farmer from Minot.

The committee didn’t take action on the bills today.

Interestingly, these bills weren’t brought to overturn the Fufeng deal in Grand Forks, but rather to address future inquiries from foreign entities. It was just happenstance that the Air Force advised against the project this week.