Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Will Canada's Future Be Sold on the Auction Block?

With a major freshwater crisis setting in throughout South Asia, India and East Asia and warnings that already record prices for food staples may double by 2030, this is what you can expect for the future.    China is making a major land grab, this time not in Africa but in Argentina, and it's got people in the South American state nervous.

...the [Chinese] state-owned agribusiness company Beidahuang has joined the global scramble for land and water that has accelerated since food prices spiked in 2008.At the end of last year it was confirmed that the company had signed an agreement with the government of Patagonia's Rio Negro province that will provide the framework for it to acquire up to 320,000 hectares of privately owned farmland – along with irrigation rights and a concession on the big San Antonio port in the region.

Details of the deal, which are alleged to have been kept quiet until it had been completed, have been emerging in recent weeks as Chinese technicians started work. Beidahuang also reported a deal for 200,000 hectares of land in the Philippines in 2008, and has said it plans to buy substantial palm oil plantations and grain terminals this year as it pursues the Chinese government's policy of securing its food supply lines from abroad.

Argentinian environmental groups and constitutional experts are outraged. Eduardo Barcesat is a top constitutional lawyer who has been helping the federal government of the Argentinian president, Cristina Kirchner, draft legislation that would restrict foreign ownership of Argentinian land. The laws would also provide, for the first time, a full register of all landholding so that authorities can keep track of who owns what.

"Chinese and Indian people have been coming to Argentina over the last five years and would be happy to buy all our land, whatever the price. American businesses have been buying access to our water ," Barcesat said.   "We need our own people to eat well first, and after that we can feed the rest of the world. We want more small and middle-sized owners, we don't like the excessive concentration, and we want farmers who will be careful with the land, not exploit it ."

It's a smart move for the Chinese who don't need to be told about what's coming in the next decade or two.  They understand that global warming will radically transform 20th century notions of globalization.  They realize they can exploit their current liquidity in ways that will cushion the impacts they foresee coming.  Why compete on global grain markets at brutal prices forecast for our now permanent global food crisis when you can still pick up farmland abroad today for reasonable prices?

What's going on in Argentina should serve as an urgent wake up call for Canada's leaders.  Will we too allow foreign wealth to conquer by sale our own agricultural resources?  Up til now Canadians have been reasonably aware of the threats to our water resources.   But water is just one item on today's shopping lists of the emerging economic superpowers and the temporarily buoyant petro-states. 

We have to start paying attention to this.   We need a dialogue on our own future food security and our security of all other strategic resources.   Globalization will be changing over the next two decades, power and interests will be shifting.  This is no longer a matter of manufacturing Volkswagens in China.  It is about a redistribution of the very assets nations will most need to weather the rest of this century.  It is about reassessing sovereignty and how it can be bolstered to ensure that national assets, even those we may foolishly take for granted, can be preserved for the benefit of our own people.

Globalization is about to undergo seismic shifts.   We can either prepare ourselves for them or sit by and be overtaken by them.


Uncommoner said...

The Chinese seem poised to own this century. They seem in many ways far more pragmatic and more willing to face unpleasant realities. They also seem more likely to actually carry out longterm planning (a serious drawback to democracy... governments rarely seem to worry past the next few elections).

As far as Canada's strategic planning, I thought we had our plan? Aren't we just going to sell all our strategic resources to the U.S.A. at incredibly steep discounts in return for... huh. What DO we get in return for all our oil, timber, fresh water and other vital resources anyways?

I asked my Brother the question just now and his reply (glib as always) was: The cold shoulder and crappy television.

Seems about right. Maybe we'd be better off allying with China?

The Mound of Sound said...

Selling our lumber is one thing, selling our forests is another thing altogether. Selling our wheat is entirely a different matter from selling our farmland.

Once you've sold the land you've sold not merely the product but the very means of production. They understand this in Asia and the Middle East and they don't underestimate the inherent, lasting value of their dealings.

My condolences about your brother.