Sale of agricultural land to foreigners still uncertain

The first effects of the Law on Agricultural Land, adopted in early 2016, are excellent, the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection says, considering the number of municipalities which have adopted annual programmes and the fact that a large number of local self-governments have carried out auctions so far.

– When it comes to instilling order in the lease of state-owned agricultural land and preventing misuse, it’s absolutely possible to solve this issue and we have already accomplished very good results, only eight months after adopting the amendments to the Law on Agricultural Land. We are on our way to solving the problem of the usurpation of land – says the Agricultural Land Directorate in their interview for eKapija.

– 145 municipalities have had their annual plans, adjusted to the Law on Agricultural land, officially approved.  Agricultural land as a national resource is to be used exclusively with the view of developing the Serbian agricultural sector and, as such, remains the top priority of the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection – says the Ministry and notes that, through this, more than 130,000 hectares of state-owned land has been regulated by the law.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the ongoing issue of selling agricultural land to foreigners, the Ministry of Agriculture cannot say with certainty whether the ban on sale, which expires in 2017, will be extended. “The authorities in charge are using good practices of the EU member states which have already faced this issue, including Hungary and Poland, in order to look into the optimal solutions and effects in the best way possible” – the Ministry says.

The Tax Administration too couldn’t provide an answer to the question whether there was a way of registering foreign citizens as land owners in Serbia. The issue that concerns the Tax Administration the most is how to collect taxes in such case not how the foreign owner would use the land, or rather whether that land would be farmed or not.

Protecting national treasure

Unlike the undecided state authorities, Professor Miladin Sevarlic of the Faculty of Agriculture in Belgrade believes that the ban should be extended in any case, but also reminds that his stance is that land shouldn’t be sold at all, as it is a non-renewable natural resource.

– We didn’t inherit the land from our parents or ancestors to be able to sell it. Instead, for centuries, generations fought for every inch of it. We only “borrowed it from our successors”, so to speak. The current authorities now intend to turn the German investor Tonnies into the biggest latifundist in Europe by giving him 60,000 hectares – 20 farms with 30,000 hectares each – much more than what he owns in his own country. This is not the European Union model, although the Prime Minister has been trying to present it as such – Professor Sevarlic says.

He believes that the only way to at least partially protect the national interests is to amend the Land on Agricultural Land so that it includes legal limits for new buyers, which are already present in the legislation of 28 EU member states, because – “why should Serbia protect its land and other natural resources as a national treasure any less than other, wealthier EU countries do”?

Sevarlic also notes that Poljoprivredni Kombinat Beograd (PKB) is just one example of many of the lack of care about national treasures, as it is practically the most fertile land available, which the Serbian tradition says should not be for sale.

(eKapija, 23.10.2016)

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