Since the adoption of China’s ‘going out’ strategy, Chinese enterprises have been strongly encouraged to engage overseas in a range of sectors, including agriculture. This has gathered a significant amount of interest in recent years, with a critical focus on large scale acquisitions by Chinese companies. Agriculture accounts for a small percentage of China’s overall outbound investment, and many of the large-scale land acquisitions reported in the media have not materialized.1 Nonetheless, Chinese companies of various sizes are now active in agriculture projects across the world, not only in production, but also processing, purchasing and trade. This report seeks to provide an overview of the current state of China’s overseas investment in agriculture in the Mekong region, with a focus on Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
The approaches utilized by Chinese companies in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar vary due to the different local contexts, regulatory regimes and government policies, although there are similarities and points of comparison. In Cambodia, Chinese investors secured a considerable number of large-scale land concessions for agricultural purposes. Companies active in Laos obtained land concessions, but on a smaller scale to Cambodia, and many instead work through contract farming or land rental agreements with local landholders, especially in the northern provinces. Detailed information on land-based investments in Myanmar is difficult to obtain, but the information that is available indicates that some Chinese companies have secured land concessions, often working in partnership with local companies. They also work through contract agreements with local growers or purchase agricultural products from local brokers.