Utah bill prohibiting China from buying land passes House

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A bill in the Utah legislature aims to restrict the purchase of land by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea in Utah.

Representative Candice Pierucci, the House sponsor, joined Senator Michael McKell, the Senate sponsor, for the state land purchase amendments bill, which would limit the growing influence of China in local agriculture. The bill passed the House on Feb. 23 and is now in the Senate.

According to the Bureau of Land Management, 43 million acres — about 2% of the U.S. land mass — is owned by other countries.

A map shows land ownership in Utah. About 2% of the U.S. land mass is owned by other countries. (Bureau of Land Management)

The bill “prevent(s) the following entities from obtaining an interest in land in the state: an entity that is owned or directly controlled by the government of China, Iran, North Korea, or Russia; and an entity in which a restricted foreign entity owns a majority interest; requires that a restricted foreign entity alienate any interest in the state within one year.”

This includes companies partially owned by China, Iran, Russia or North Korea, so long as the total share of that country is more than 51%, according to the bill.

“This isn’t unique to Utah,” political science professor Celeste Beesley said. “Last year there were at least 15 states that put restrictions on foreign land ownership and another 20 states that have discussed whether or not to restrict that.”

There may be more than one motivation for states to ban land-buying from U.S. antagonists, Beesley said.

“Lately, the discussion about foreign direct investments has become more concerned that economic interdependence makes you weaker. Concerns about economic reliance on China have led to concerns with investments from China regarding minerals and food,” Beesley said.

She also said the government subsidizes farms in the U.S., giving indirect funding to governments that are connected with their companies.

Though still controversial, Beesley said proposed bills to ban China from buying U.S. farmland have emerged in red and blue states.

“These discussions have interesting bipartisan support,” Beesley said. “The U.S. isn’t alone, Europe has implemented many screening processes.”

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the only current law regarding the foreign buying of land in the U.S. says foreign governments must report themselves to the Bureau of Land Management.

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