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American Shipper

Officials push for foreign investment reform

The Senate Banking Committee is slated to mark up its version of the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2017 on Tuesday.

   Trump administration officials continued to push legislation to reform the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) on Tuesday at the Bureau of Industry and Security’s (BIS’) 2018 Annual Conference on Export Controls and Policy.
   The Senate Banking Committee is expected to mark up its version of the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2017 (FIRRMA) on Tuesday, according to a committee spokesperson.
   Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration Richard Ashooh and Treasury Assistant Secretary for International Markets and Investment Policy Heath Tarbert during the BIS conference reiterated their endorsement for FIRRMA that they previously put forth during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee on April 26.
   The bipartisan, bicameral legislation would increase CFIUS’ jurisdiction to certain types of transactions that haven’t been subject to review, and includes several measures to streamline the review process for transactions least likely to raise national security issues.
   FIRRMA would create a declaration to provide more clarity, case by case, for foreign companies intending to merge with or acquire U.S. companies.
   Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced FIRRMA in the Senate on Nov. 8.
   “We do see a lot of communication going back and forth between the houses” of Congress on the respective bills, Ashooh said.
   The Senate appears to be further along in finalizing its legislation than the House, Ashooh added, and “we’re very optimistic” that FIRRMA will pass “in some form or another,” Tarbert said.
   The House bill was referred to several different committees, according to a summary of legislative action on Congress.gov.
   “Last month’s hearing on CFIUS reform and FIRRMA was extremely productive and the committee is continuing its work to move the legislation forward,” an Energy and Commerce spokesperson said in an email.
   BIS has contributed considerably to the substance of the legislation, Ashooh said.
   “Legislation of this nature is going to require some very thoughtful regulatory activity, but we’ve also worked very hard to keep as much momentum as we can to get the basic precepts set in the statute,” he said.
   Ashooh said one of the ways the legislation proposes to strengthen and harmonize CFIUS and export control processes is to create a class of technology that would require some sort of review to determine the control level of technology being examined, which will then leverage the export control system, “with all of its multilateral aspects, all of its international aspects, and I think, quite importantly, its enforcement aspects, which wouldn’t be available in a CFIUS-alone approach.”
   CFIUS has become a hot topic in the shipping and port sectors lately, as Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., asked President Donald Trump in an April letter to place a hold on a plan by Delaware to lease the Port of Wilmington to Gulftainer Group, a United Arab Emirates-based port operator, until CFIUS can fully review the deal’s national security implications.
   Touching on export enforcement matters, Ashooh also during the conference briefly mentioned an ongoing BIS export case involving Chinese telecom company ZTE, noting a general recent “great deal of attention being paid” to the matter.
   On Sunday, a day before the start of the BIS conference, Trump tweeted that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping were “working together” to give “massive” ZTE “a way to get back into business, fast,” adding that the company had experienced large job losses and that the Commerce Department “has been instructed to get it done!”
   U.S. and Chinese officials are preparing for trade meetings in Washington in the near future.
   On Wednesday morning, Trump, in a string of tweets, appeared to make an effort to walk those comments back, while lashing out against mainstream media and U.S. trade policy with China prior to his administration taking office.
   “Nothing has happened with ZTE except as it pertains to the larger trade deal,” Trump said. “Our country has been losing hundreds of billions of dollars a year with China. We have not seen China’s demands yet, which should be few in that previous U.S. administrations have done so poorly in negotiating. China has seen our demands. There has been no folding as the media would love people to believe, the meetings haven’t even started yet! The U.S. has very little to give because it has given so much over the years. China has much to give!”

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