Measures to curb foreign access to U.S. technology have taken and will likely take various forms that will cut across industries and legal disciplines. Among them, as discussed below, are restrictions on foreign access to and influence on U.S. technology through (1) foreign investment, (2) supply chain exclusions, (3) limits on participation in academic and other research, (4) legal or political curbs on U.S. technology access or transfers through third countries, and (5) countermeasures against foreign control of raw materials essential to technological manufacturing and innovation.
On August 22, 2017, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued revised Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs) designed to combat money laundering and related financial crimes in select U.S. residential real estate markets. The GTOs further expand the scope of GTOs issued in January 2016, expanded in July 2016, and renewed in February 2017. In tandem with the August GTOs, FinCEN issued an Advisory to Financial Institutions and Real Estate Firms and Professionals (the “Advisory”) and FAQs.
State-owned enterprises (SOEs, including sovereign wealth funds) are prominent players in international business. Given their ownership, SOEs have garnered scrutiny for their lack of transparency and heightened anti-corruption and anti-money laundering risk, as have individual SOE executives and other personnel who qualify as Politically Exposed Persons. In connection with commercial activities, SOEs are not protected in most cases by sovereign immunity. Thus, SOEs can, like their privately-owned counterparts, be subject to foreign legal processes. Given the greater scrutiny around SOEs and some of the high profile enforcement actions involving them directly or indirectly (for example, the 1MDB case), anti-corruption and other compliance, as well as good governance and risk management, are essential to avoid legal, commercial, and reputational risk and loss.
On May 17, 2017, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH)—respectively ranking members of the Senate Finance; Homeland Security and Government Affairs; and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committees of the U.S. Senate—asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the approach taken by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to foreign investment in U.S. real estate and to "assess whether and how CFIUS addresses the full range of national security challenges such transactions may pose." (The Senators' letter to the GAO is below). Specifically, the Senators have asked the GAO to examine a number of issues aimed at assessing the extent to which applicable regulations and the CFIUS process capture real estate transactions, the percentage of foreign acquisitions of U.S. real estate that have "filed" for CFIUS review, and the information and processes used by CFIUS to assess national security issues raised by foreign acquisitions of U.S. real estate.
On January 26, 2017, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission will hold a public hearing on Chinese Investment in the United States: Impacts and Issues for Policymakers. This hearing follows the Commission's November 2016 Annual Report to Congress, in which the Commission recommended, among other things, a bar on investment in the United States by Chinese state-owned enterprises (for background, see MassPoint's November 2016 Business Update, Proposals to Curb Foreign Investment in the United States Gaining Steam After the Election and MassPoint's April 2016 Business Update, Foreign Investment in U.S. Agriculture Under Scrutiny).
Acquisitions of U.S. businesses by SOEs, particularly Chinese SOEs, have been a key focus of concern about foreign investment in the United States. Chinese and other SOEs would be well-advised to acquaint themselves with the gathering focus in Washington on their U.S. investments, commercial activities (post-acquisition), and sovereign immunity under U.S. law and in U.S. litigation—non-Chinese SOEs should not assume that they will not be subjected to the same or similar scrutiny. At minimum, SOEs—Chinese and non-Chinese—may be well-served by understanding the origins of some Trump transition team (and later administration) proposals and/or their linkages to prior proposals. Privately-owned foreign enterprises should also take note, as sentiments about foreign investment in the United States may also directly or indirectly affect their planned or future investments (including, perhaps, favorably, if SOEs are (to an extent) taken out of competition for U.S. assets as a result of legal, policy, or political measures adopted in the United States).
Hdeel Abdelhady was quoted in Islamic Finance News, on the potential impact of the U.S. Election outcome on Islamic finance and investment in the United States. She said: “Trump’s rhetoric and proposals — such as the ‘Muslim ban’ (which is legally problematic and impracticable) and other politically opportunistic invocations of Islam and Muslims — would likely carry over and create an inhospitable environment for Islamic finance, including because Trump’s candidacy appears to have normalized, in some quarters, anti-Muslim, anti-‘other’ speech and conduct . . . even if Trump — a self-styled ‘dealmaker’ — were inclined to support wholly or partially Islamic investments in the US (such as the CityCenterDC mixed use development located less than a mile from both Trump’s recently opened DC hotel and the address to which he aspires, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), the atmosphere and supporters he has cultivated as a candidate would likely be impediments.”
To deprive SOEs of the tactical advantage of asserting sovereign immunity in U.S. courts, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced on September 14 the State-Owned Entity Transparency and Accountability Reform (STAR) Act of 2016, "a bill to improve the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, and for other purposes." Specifically, the STAR Act would remove a level of specificity required to link a specific legal entity to commercial activity by amending the FSIA to make “commercial activity . . . attributable to any corporate affiliate of the agency or instrumentality that (A) directly or indirectly owns a majority of shares . . . and (B) is also an agency or instrumentality of a foreign state.”
The 2013 sale of American pork producer and processer Smithfield Foods to China’s Shuanghui International aroused concern among some U.S. lawmakers. The $4.7 billion deal ($7.1 billion including debt), was and remains the largest acquisition of a U.S. business by a Chinese entity. This year, some U.S. lawmakers are again raising concerns about a Chinese firm’s acquisition of an agricultural company: the proposed $43 billion acquisition by state-owned China National Chemical Corporation (ChemChina) of Syngetna AG , the Swiss agrochemicals company that does substantial business in the United States. If completed, the Syngenta deal would “transform ChemChina into the world’s biggest supplier of pesticides and agrochemicals.”With Chinese buyers, record-setting deals, and industry-leading acquisition targets in the mix, the Smithfield and Syngenta transactions provide the ingredients needed to stir media interest and controversy about foreign investment in and affecting the United States. Beyond deal optics, a more interesting, strategically-oriented, and potentially consequential policy and public discourse about foreign investment in U.S. agriculture is emerging in the United States, at least in some quarters