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Banning China from Owning US Farmland Will Achieve Nothing

A new bipartisan bill would prohibit anyone associated with “foreign adversaries” like China from purchasing US farmland. While protecting the US food system and making farmland more affordable to domestic producers by limiting foreign ownership may seem plausible on paper, the reality is more complicated.

CHICAGO – In March, a group of United States senators introduced the bipartisan Protecting America’s Agricultural Land from Foreign Harm Act, which would prohibit any entity “owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of a foreign adversary” from leasing or purchasing public and private US farmlands.

Although the term “foreign adversaries” refers to four countries – Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia – it is clear that China is the real target. Introduced amid heightened fears of Chinese espionage after the downing of a Chinese surveillance balloon over US territorial waters in February, the bill follows a series of large land purchases near American military bases by entities allegedly associated with China’s government. It also follows similar restrictions on foreign ownership of farmland passed by 14 state legislatures over the past few years.

The proposed law aims to safeguard the US food supply and to ensure that agricultural land remains affordable to American farmers. These two goals are complementary: by protecting domestic farming, the argument goes, the US could enhance food security. But while these are worthy goals, it is doubtful that the senators’ bill could achieve them.