Chinese requests for U.S. clearance on investments doubled in 2021

By Alexandra Alper and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Chinese investors roughly doubled the number of applications they made last year seeking U.S. regulatory clearance for proposed stakes in American companies, according to a report the government plans to release on Tuesday.

The Treasury Department report seen by Reuters shows that Chinese investors filed 44 so-called “covered notices” seeking greenlights for their deals in U.S. President Joe Biden’s first year in office compared to 17 such filings in 2020.

The 2021 figures for China included filings from Hong Kong-based investors, while the 2020 numbers place Hong Kong’s three such filings into a separate category, due to a shift in U.S. policy.

Most foreigners seeking to take even non-controlling stakes in U.S. companies must seek approval from CFIUS, a powerful committee headed by the Treasury Department, which reviews transactions for national security concerns and has the power to block them.

The committee, whose powers were dramatically expanded under a 2018 law, was used by former President Donald Trump to upend many Chinese investments in the United States.

The new report shows China also made up the largest number of “covered notices,” among all countries, accounting for 16.5% of the total, followed by Canada and Japan at 10.3% and 9.6%, respectively.

Top sectors for would-be Chinese investment in the 2019-2021 period, were “finance, information and services” and manufacturing, according to the covered notices data.

But Chinese investors only sought 10 investments in critical sectors including technology, infrastructure and data businesses in 2021, behind the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, the Cayman Islands and Israel.

While not every filing represents a unique transaction, and not every filing is included in the “covered notice” category, the uptick points to a likely increase in U.S. deals sought by Chinese investors. The report does not detail CFIUS responses to individual filings or transactions.

A law approved in 2018, 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 U.S. companies. It also instituted mandatory filing requirements for certain transactions.

Before those laws were passed, China accounted for most investments in American critical technology in the 2016-2017 period, accounting for more than a fifth of the total.

(Editing by Sam Holmes)

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