State-owned Enterprises

US panel urges tougher scrutiny of China investment

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 5:20pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 5:45pm

The US Congress should consider tougher screening laws for investments made by China’s huge state-owned enterprises (SOEs) because of the threat they pose to US companies, an advisory committee said in its annual report on Wednesday.

The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which typically takes a tough view of relations with China, said Beijing lavishes special favours on its state-owned companies that could give them an unfair advantage even if they build facilities in the United States.

“Once invested in the United States, Chinese SOEs may continue to benefit from Chinese government subsidies that would allow the Chinese to sell their products at less than the cost of production. Once their US competitors are driven out of business, Chinese SOEs might dominate the market and even raise prices,” the panel said in its annual report.

The commission’s 32 recommendations also called on Congress to carry out an in-depth assessment of Chinese cyber-spying and to weigh tougher penalties on companies found to cash in on industrial espionage.

A separate study released last week by the commission forecast Chinese investment to rise rapidly in coming years.

The study noted private economists put Chinese direct investment in the United States at US$30 billion through the end of last year, compared to official government estimates of just US$5.8 billion through 2010.

In its report on Wednesday, the US-China commission urged Congress to require mandatory screenings of all investments by Chinese state-owned or state-controlled companies where they would gain an controlling interest in a US operation.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, made up of executive branch agencies, should also be required to consider the net economic impact of a foreign investment on the United States in addition to its current focus on any potential threat to national security, the commission said.

The US-China panel also recommended the US Securities and Exchange Commission be directed to look more closely at state-owned and -affiliated companies seeking to be listed on US stock exchanges “to assure US investors have sufficient information to make investment decisions.”

The report follows Fortune magazine’s latest list of the world’s 500 biggest companies, which showed the United States still in the lead with 132, down one from last year.

China passed Japan to move into second place on Fortune’s list. It now has 73 of the world’s biggest firms, up from 61 last year and just 16 in 2005.

Many of the big Chinese firms are owned or controlled by the state, the US-China commission said.

They generally receive more favourable treatment in China than foreign firms, and because of those favours and subsidies have become formidable competitors in both the United States and other markets around the world, the panel said.

Congress should require the US Commerce Department to annually track Chinese investment in the United States, with a particular focus on state-owned enterprises, the panel said.