Mon, Aug 27, 2018 - Page 6 News List

US finance checks worth imitating

By Eric Chiou 邱奕宏

US President Donald Trump on Aug. 13 signed the US National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019. The majority of Taiwanese media have focused on clauses within the act that provide for an increase in military cooperation and exchanges between Taiwan and the US.

However, an aspect that has been overlooked by many observers is the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA), which introduces a major reform to the investment environment in the US.

FIRRMA won cross-party support in the US and was also signed into law by Trump on Aug. 13.

While the act seeks to uphold freedom of investment for foreign entities investing in the US, it recalibrates the regulations toward upholding national security. The impetus behind this significant change mainly derives from widening concerns in Washington over Chinese investment in the US.

The act ushers in a raft of changes to the way in which national security checks on foreign investments into the US economy are carried out and it offers several insights that could be applied to how Taiwan conducts its own reviews of foreign investments.

First, FIRRMA greatly increases the remit of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS) to perform checks when national security concerns are triggered by suspect real-estate transactions, minority shareholdings or secretive investment funds.

Second, any foreign investment that relates to any use, development, merger and acquisition, maintenance, management or operation involving critical technology, critical infrastructure or sensitive personal data must now be subject to a foreign investment national security investigation.

Third, FIRRMA strengthens the role of US national intelligence agencies within CFIUS. In the past, CFIUS was guided by the US Department of the Treasury, whose main consideration was maintaining investment freedom. FIRRMA requires the directors of US intelligence agencies to submit an analysis report on any investment transactions with the potential to create a national security threat.

They must also present the view of the intelligence community on cases under review by the committee in order to facilitate more informed discussion by the committee. It is a measure explicitly designed to place national security considerations at the forefront of the decisionmaking process.

Additionally, during the act’s review by the US Congress, the stated sense of Congress was that “it is the policy of the United States to enthusiastically welcome and support foreign investment, consistent with national security considerations” and that investigations by CFIUS should look at the national security aspect of transactions that could allow “countries of special concern” to obtain key strategic US technology.

This is undoubtedly a veiled reference to Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” policy, which aims to use Chinese investment funds to acquire elements of the US’ high-tech industry.

The act requires CFIUS to issue a biannual Report on Chinese Investment to Congress from the time the act takes effect through 2026. The report is to include information on Chinese businesses investing in the US economy and US businesses investing in China, as well as an analysis of the methods used by Chinese businesses investing in the US.

This means that the US Congress is deliberately applying pressure on US government departments to toughen up their supervision of the activities of Chinese businesses and investors. It is a clear demonstration of the extent to which Congress is concerned about the security threat posed by such actors.

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