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US woos Chinese investors

By Chen Weihua in Washington | China Daily | Updated: 2013-08-09 12:15

The US is to a launch a high-profile investment forum in a bid to attract more foreign investors to help grow the economy and create jobs.

The SelectUSA 2013 Investment Summit, scheduled for Oct 31-Nov 1 in Washington, has been described by its organizers - including the Department of Commerce - as a first-of-its-kind, national-level engagement intended to connect businesses and investors from around the world with US economic development organizations at the regional, state, and local levels.

President Barack Obama will be hosting the summit while other senior officials, such as Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew, US Trade Representative Michael Froman and US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, will also attend the two-day event.

"The president has asked his entire team to lead this effort. Secretary Kerry, Secretary Lew and Ambassador Froman bring tremendous insights and perspectives to the SelectUSA 2013 Investment Summit," Pritzker said in a statement.

Obama said in a speech in Chattanoog, Tennessee, last Tuesday that he was directing his administration to make a coordinated effort to attract foreign investment to create jobs in the US.

In 2012, nearly $161 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) flowed into the US and in 2011, US affiliates of foreign firms employed 5.6 million US workers, according to a Department of Commerce report.

Last year's figure included $6.7 billion FDI from China, according to the Rhodium Group.

The group's latest report showed that Chinese firms spent nearly $5 billion on M&A and Greenfield projects in the US in the first half of this year, while another $10 billion in deals were announced or pending.

During the 5th China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington last month, the two countries agreed to enter a new stage of negotiation in a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT).

While the US applauded China's consent to start talks covering all industries, China hopes a BIT will help better protect the interests of the increasing amount of outbound Chinese investment coming to the US.

At the conclusion of the dialogue last month, the US agreed that reviews by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) will be based only on national security concerns and not on economic policy.

Some US lawmakers and politicians, however, have called for an expansion of reviews to include economic security after China's Shuang-hui International proposed two months ago to buy Smithfield Foods, the largest US pork producer, for $4.7 billion.

China has repeatedly expressed its dissatisfaction with the US' treatment of Chinese investors and the CFIUS process, which China described as "not fair and transparent".

Since China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) was forced to withdraw its $18.5 billion takeover bid for California energy firm Unocal in 2005 after vehement attacks by US lawmakers citing national security concerns, Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei has also undergone frustrations in the US market in its M&A bids when national security was raised as a concern.

In September of last year, Ralls Corp, which is owned by executives of Chinese firm Sany, was ordered by President Obama to divest its wind mill investment near a military facility in Oregon. Ralls is still pursuing a lawsuit against Obama.

The US now lags far behind the European Union in attracting the ballooning Chinese FDI, which hit $23.8 billion in the first quarter of this year.

Henry Levine, senior director at the consulting firm Albright Stonebridge Group, said while the US federal and local governments are making efforts to attract foreign investment, including Chinese investment, much more could be done.

"It's very important for us to ensure our broad national security concern doesn't spill over unnecessarily into our trade and investment relationship with China," he told a business forum in Washington last week.

A former deputy assistant secretary of commerce for Asia, Levine pointed out that Chinese companies coming to the US are usually bewildered by its complex set of laws and regulations. Levine believes more can be done to help Chinese investors better understand the US system.

Writing on the website of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, analysts Lin Shi and Yuhan Zhang said Chinese investors need a level playing field and a more favorable environment. They said CFIUS and other US regulations were "certainly obstacles".

"But success depends in large part on Chinese companies. They need to understand and follow the rules of outward direct investment and convince American regulators and audiences through openness, transparency, and strategic approaches," they wrote.

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