Many foreign firms are ditching US deals amid Trump scrutiny

Chinese investments in critical, sensitive technology has been probed and essentially discouraged by Washington.

    Among other inquiries, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has started a national security investigation of social media app TikTok [Justin Sullivan/Getty/AFP]
    Among other inquiries, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has started a national security investigation of social media app TikTok [Justin Sullivan/Getty/AFP]

    An increasing number of overseas companies investigated by United States authorities for national security concerns have abandoned investments in the US since President Donald Trump took office, a report showed on Friday, signaling headwinds for key sources of funding for American companies.

    The report, released by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), shows that foreign companies abandoned roughly 14 percent of US investments that were investigated by CFIUS in 2017 "in light of CFIUS-related national security concerns".

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    In 2018, that figure was 11 percent - which is up sharply up from the period immediately before Trump took office. About 4 or 5 percent of such transactions probed by the committee were dropped annually from 2014 to 2016, the report showed.

    The interagency committee, led by the Department of the Treasury, reviews foreign investment in the US for national security issues.

    The data does not identify the national origin of the companies or buyers who abandoned their investments. But attorneys who handle CFIUS cases said many are probably companies from China caught in a Trump administration campaign to stymie their efforts to acquire sensitive US technology.

    "It means that CFIUS is a problem, it is an obstacle to engaging in foreign direct investment in the United States," said Josh Gruenspecht, a Washington lawyer focusing on CFIUS at Wilson Sonsini, noting that the uptick in abandoned deals reflected a "changing mindset" about Chinese transactions.

    Farhad Jalinous, a lawyer at White and Case, agreed that "there was a shift in judgment as to whether national security risks, in particular with respect to Chinese transactions, can be adequately mitigated."

    But Chinese investment has sunk in the US, as the Trump administration has beefed up oversight of foreign investment in key sectors, from critical technology to sensitive personal data and real estate, to keep China from delving into certain industries.

    Last month, US Senator Marco Rubio said he would ask CFIUS to review TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co's acquisition of Musical.ly.

    A senior Treasury official, however, said it was hard to draw conclusions from the rise in abandoned deals. "It could be very well for commercial reasons ... There could be, in one year from the next, a greater percent of cases where the committee identified risks that couldn't be mitigated and the parties chose to abandon the transaction," the official said.

    A law approved last year, known as FIRRMA, expanded the powers of CFIUS to probe transactions previously excluded from its purview, including attempts by foreigners to purchase non-controlling stakes in US companies. It also instituted mandatory filing requirements for particular transactions.

    Before those laws were passed, China accounted for the most investments in critical technology in the 2016-2017 period, blowing past Canada, the United Kingdom and France to account for more than a fifth of the total for that period, the report shows.

    Meanwhile, the number of Chinese transactions rose from just 29 in 2015 to 60 in 2017.

    The data showed the proportion of deals that CFIUS decided to investigate doubled between 2014 to 2018.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency