Louisiana House committee adopts law prohibiting land sales to foreign enemy

A Louisiana legislative committee has proposed and advanced a ban on the sale of agricultural land to foreign adversaries such as North Korea, Iran, China, Russia, and Venezuela.

The House of Representatives’ Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, Aquaculture, and Rural Development has given its approval to the bill.

The next destination for the proposal submitted by Rep. Michael Echols, R-Monroe, will be the Appropriations Committee. A fiscal note has now been attached to the proposal. If the committee supports it, there is a possibility that it will be put up for a vote on the chamber floor.

Echols’ proposed legislation aims to prohibit the sale of agricultural land to residents or agents from five specific countries. Additionally, it would empower the state attorney general’s office to take legal action against landowners who have connections to an adversary. Moreover, in cases where an agent from one of these nations attempts to acquire farmland in the state, the attorney general’s office would be authorized to file an injunction.

Those found in violation of the proposed law may face a civil penalty of $50,000 and could potentially lose ownership of the land if they fail to divest it within one year of a lawsuit being filed.

According to the Legislative Financial Office, taxpayers could face annual costs ranging from $546,000 to $620,000.

Representative John Wyble, a cosponsor from Franklinton, introduced the bill to the committee, emphasizing the significance of the agricultural industry not only for the state, but for the entire country.

According to Wyble, the focus should be on the economic impact and security of our food production. He emphasizes the need to protect the largest industry in our state, which has a significant influence on all of us, regardless of our location.

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The previous session saw the passage of a similar bill in both chambers. However, former Governor John Bel Edwards vetoed it, and the attempt to override the veto was unsuccessful by just one vote.

Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain shared that approximately 43.4 million acres of farmland in the United States are owned by foreigners, accounting for around 21.1% of the total acreage. In Louisiana, this percentage is lower at about 8.3%. Strain mentioned that the majority of foreign-owned land in Louisiana is owned by Canadians, who primarily utilize it for timber purposes.

According to Strain, one of the main concerns that has been discussed by the federal government is the purchase of land by foreign “bad actors.” He emphasizes the potential risks when these entities strategically acquire land, particularly if it is located near industrial or military bases.

Louisiana is home to two significant military bases. Barksdale Air Force Base houses one of the Air Force’s two B-52 bomber wings, while Fort Johnston, formerly known as Fort Polk, serves as the Army’s Joint Readiness Training Center.

Swedish company Syngenta owns a few hundred acres, according to Strain. The situation has become problematic following an acquisition by a Chinese company.

According to Christopher Holton, a senior analyst with the Center for Security Policy, the purpose of the bill, like similar ones passed in 21 other states including Arkansas, is to limit purchases made by foreign adversaries, rather than all foreign entities.

According to Holton, it is not uncommon for foreign countries to desire land ownership in the United States due to its status as the world’s breadbasket. However, the situation takes a different turn when a foreign adversary expresses interest in acquiring land.

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An interesting case highlighted by Holton involved the acquisition of 140,000 acres of land in Texas, which was located next to Lackland Air Force Base. Surprisingly, this purchase was made by an individual who had ties to the Chinese Communist Party and had previously served as an officer in the People’s Liberation Army.

According to him, the purchase led to the passing of a bill by the Texas Legislature to prevent foreign adversaries from making such acquisitions.

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