US President Donald Trump’s administration has put on hold an effort to blacklist Ant Group Co (螞蟻集團), the Chinese financial technology company affiliated with e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴), following a telephone call between a company executive and a top US government official, four people familiar with the matter said.
Reuters reported last month that the US Department of State had submitted a proposal to add Ant Group to a trade blacklist to deter US investors from taking part in its initial public offering, which was expected to rake in a record US$37 billion before being postponed on Tuesday.
However, the US Department of Commerce, which oversees the blacklist, shelved the proposal after Alibaba president Michael Evans urged US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to reject the bid in a telephone call, the people said, declining to be named because they were not authorized to speak on the matter.
Three of the people said that fears of antagonizing Wall Street ahead of Tuesday’s presidential election and the possibility of a lawsuit helped convince Ross to set the plan aside.
“It could spur legal action or cause a chill in markets,” one of the sources said.
In contrast, the fourth person said that Ross was taking into account the fact that Alibaba’s platform Taobao (淘寶) is already on the Office of the US Trade Representative’s notorious markets list due to concerns it includes some counterfeit goods.
That means it already faces US government scrutiny, the person said, adding that Ross’ decision was neither due to the telephone call nor market, election or legal concerns.
Ant and the state department declined to comment, while Ross and Evans could not be reached for comment.
Ant is China’s dominant mobile payments company, offering loans, payments, insurance and asset management services via mobile apps.
Inclusion on the trade blacklist, known as the entity list, forces a company’s US suppliers to seek special licenses before selling to it.
However, it does not prevent US investors from buying its shares, and its effect on a fintech giant such as Ant would have likely been largely symbolic.
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