Australia unveils surprise crackdown on foreign investment

30 March 2020 - 12:00 am UTC

The Australian government has imposed temporary restrictions on foreign investment to protect distressed businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the new rules, all investment into Australian businesses, regardless of their size, will have to apply for Foreign Investment Review Board clearance, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a statement late on Sunday.

“This is not an investment freeze. Australia is open for business and recognises investment at this time can be beneficial if in the national interest,” Frydenberg said.

Monetary thresholds for applications will be reduced to zero, meaning all bids for companies and real estate will need to be weighed against the national interest.

“These measures are necessary to safeguard the national interest as the coronavirus outbreak puts intense pressure on the Australian economy and Australian businesses,” he said. “By temporarily reducing the foreign investment thresholds, the Australian government will ensure appropriate oversight over all proposed foreign investment during this time.”

Currently, the thresholds range from zero for foreign state-owned entities and buyers of media assets to AUD 275m (USD 169m) for businesses in sectors deemed sensitive – including transport and telecommunications – where the buyer is not from a country that has a free trade agreement with Australia in place.

The highest threshold is AUD 1.19bn and applies to buyers of businesses classed as non-sensitive where there is a free trade agreement in place with Australia.

The standard time frame for reviewing applications will now be extended from the current 30 days to up to six months, the treasurer said.

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