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Argentina: Draft Legislation on Limitation of Farmland Ownership by Foreigners

(Sept. 28, 2011) President Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina has submitted draft legislation to that country's Congress that would limit land ownership by foreigners. (Protección al Dominio Nacional Sobre la Propiedad, Posesión o Tenencia de lasTierras Rurales [Law for the Protection of the National Ownership, Possession and Holdings of Rural Land] (hereinafter draft LT), Proyecto 001-P-2011 (Apr. 27, 2011), Cámara de Diputados de la Nación website (official site).)

As a consequence of the global food crisis, countries that are overpopulated and have a shortage of arable land like China are seeking to secure food through the acquisition of land in countries with fertile farmland. This is one of the main reasons Argentina has seen a considerable increase in foreign ownership of its land in the last decade. This phenomenon has raised concerns among the local populace over the potential threat posed by the newcomers to protection of the environment and of the indigenous peoples in the regions affected. (A Land-Grabber's Loophole, Council on Hemispheric Affairs website (Aug. 8, 2011).)

The draft is aimed at limiting the land owned by foreigners to 20% of all available farmland. (Draft LT, art. 7.) It also restricts to 1,000 hectares the land that may be owned by each foreign individual or company. (Id. art.9.)

Current law does not have any restriction on foreigners' ownership of rural land. An exception is Decree-Law 15385 on Creation of National Security Zones, which sets such limits in border and national defense zones on foreigners owning land within 150 kilometers of territorial borders, 50 kilometers of maritime borders, and 30 kilometers of predetermined inland areas. (Decreto-Ley 15385/1944, Creación de Zonas de Seguridad, art. 2 (official site) (last visited Sept. 27, 2011).)

Based on the current constitutional framework in Argentina, foreigners have the same civil rights as nationals. The Constitution further provides for, among other rights, the right of foreigners to own and sell real estate. (Constitución de la Nación Argentina (CN) (Dec. 15, 1994), art. 20.)

Agriculture Minister Julián Dominguez, a supporter of the submitted draft, maintains that, despite the right assigned to foreigners under article 20 of the Constitution to own land, there is a sovereign right to protect and defend non-renewable strategic resources, which is protected under article 41 of the Constitution. Article 41 states that the authorities are required to protect the people's right to a healthy and balanced environment fit for human development and therefore have to secure the rational use of natural resources and the protection of the natural and cultural heritage, as well as biological diversity (CN, art. 41). (El Proyecto de Ley de Tierras es Constitucional, RADIO NACIONAL (Sept. 9, 2011).)