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Chinese and other foreign companies considering investments in the United States often are confused about the degree to which the United States is open to foreign investment. They hear terms such as CFIUS, Exon-Florio and FINSA and claims that the United States is now hostile to foreign investment, especially from China and the Middle East.

The reality is that the United States remains one of the economies most open in the world to foreign investment. When it comes to greenfield investments creating new businesses in the United States, foreigners are as free to invest as domestic concerns. The United States does have procedures for reviewing foreign acquisitions of existing businesses under the Foreign Investment National Security Act of 2007 (“FINSA”), conducted by the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS”), presided over by the U.S. Treasury Department. However, as the Treasury Department noted when it published its CFIUS guidance, “CFIUS focuses solely on any genuine national security concerns raised by a covered transaction, not on other national interests.”

Notwithstanding today’s difficult economic climate and the confusion over national security reviews of foreign investment, Chinese companies obviously remain interested in acquiring U.S. companies. For example, on October 23, 2009 BGP Inc., a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, agreed to a joint venture with ION Geophysical Corporation, a Houston, Texas based company specializing in seismic products used in oil and gas exploration. According to ION’s press release, the transaction, which would result in the Chinese company owning 16.66% of ION, is contingent upon obtaining clearance of the transaction from CFIUS. This proposed acquisition is likely to face an exhaustive and extended CFIUS review because it is in a particularly sensitive sector, energy, and the ultimate acquirer is a Chinese state-owned enterprise. Although CFIUS may require some conditions designed to mitigate national security concerns, the transaction probably will be approved.

Congress passed FINSA in 2007 following controversies over the China National Offshore Oil Corporation’s attempted acquisition in 2005 of Unocal, a U.S. energy company, and Dubai Ports World’s acquisition in 2006 of a British company that managed several major seaports in the United States. These controversies focused congressional attention on CFIUS; the earlier Exon-Florio procedures for review of foreign acquisitions; potential harm to U.S. national security that could arise from foreign control of energy, infrastructure and critical technologies; and on investments by state-owned entities. The public debate over these cases and a new law, however, was not one-sided and the Administration convinced Congress to balance national security concerns with the need for the United States to remain open to foreign investment. FINSA, legislated on July 26, 2007, is not a barrier to foreign investment, but a balance of investment with national security.

FINSA covers any transaction that “could result in control of a U.S. business by a foreign person.” It covers transactions that could result in the switch of control from one foreign person to another. However, it does not cover greenfield investments or a strictly real estate transaction. Control over an existing U.S. business must be at stake. “Control” is defined very broadly. Thus, even the acquisition of a relatively small minority stake in a company could be covered by FINSA.

FINSA does not pose a significant barrier to the vast majority of foreign acquisitions of U.S. businesses because, although all such acquisitions are covered transactions, the President’s authority under FINSA to suspend or prohibit a covered transaction can be exercised only when the President finds that “the foreign interest exercising control might take action that threatens to impair the national security.” Neither the statute, nor its implementing regulations, defines “national security” and Congress intended CFIUS to interpret that term broadly to include, among other things, energy, critical materials, critical technologies, homeland security and infrastructure. Nonetheless, where there is no plausible connection between the business conducted by the U.S. company to be acquired and national security, FINSA will not be an issue.

Whenever a transaction covered by FINSA might affect national security, FINSA provides a review process whereby the parties to the transaction can seek clearance from CFIUS before they have invested a great deal. A CFIUS review is not mandatory, but companies generally seek one whenever there is a possibility that the transaction could be considered to affect national security. Once a transaction has been cleared by CFIUS, it cannot subsequently be challenged under FINSA unless one of the parties to the transaction submits false or misleading material information.

Companies take advantage of the CFIUS safe harbor – the preclearance — by submitting a voluntary notice of a proposed transaction providing the detailed and extensive information that CFIUS’ regulations require for such notices. The filing of the notice commences a 30 day initial review process. Most transactions are cleared within this initial 30 day period.

When any of the CFIUS member agencies have unresolved national security concerns with a proposed transaction, a formal 45 day investigation begins. The parties typically resolve transactions that go through this second stage by agreeing with the government to mitigate the agencies’ national security concerns.

Mitigation agreements can involve modifications to the transaction, certain limitations on the new foreign owner’s exercise of control, or extra protections for critical technologies or facilities. A very small number of transactions pose national security concerns that cannot be mitigated successfully. Those transactions usually are abandoned before the completion of the CFIUS process. It is rare for CFIUS to complete its review with a recommendation to the President that a transaction be blocked.

The United States remains committed to an open investment environment, treating foreign investors on an equal footing with their domestic competition. It was for this reason that Congress set the initial CFIUS review deadline at 30 days, to coincide with the 30 day antitrust review period for mergers and acquisitions. The expanded view of national security mandated by FINSA does mean that CFIUS national security reviews are a crucial part of transactions involving foreign investment, but it is no more onerous than an antitrust examination.

Most important for success in a CFIUS review is understanding in advance the concerns of CFIUS member agencies, creative thinking about how to demonstrate that those concerns are not threatened, and where perceived threat may be reasonable, creative proposal to mitigate them. In most cases early attention to the CFIUS process and to the legitimate concerns of the member agencies, Congress, and the public, can ensure smooth and timely proceedings that result in CFIUS clearance without restrictions, or on terms that preserve the value of the transaction for all parties.

        中国及其他国家的企业常常不清楚美国对外资的开放程度。他们常听到国家安全审查等词句,以及美国对外资尤其是中国及中东投资不友善。

        事实上美国是世界上最欢迎外资的国家。就可增加美国就业机会、对新兴领域的投资而言,外资和美资享受同等待遇。《2007年国外投资国家安全审查法》建立了审查程序,审查购买美资公司的外资,这一程序由多个部门组成的美国外国投资委员会(“CFIUS”)负责。美国财政部是这一委员会的牵头部门。美国财政部在刊登外国投资委员会指引时明确指出:“外国投资委员会关注于国家安全,而不是国家利益。”

        虽然当前经济不景气,而且外资对国家安全审查困惑重重,中国公司仍然对美国公司感兴趣。例如,2009年10月23日,中国石油天然气集团公司(CNPC)的子公司BGP公司与德克萨斯州休斯敦市、对主要生产用于石油天然气开发中的地震产品ION Geophysical Corporation 达成建立合资公司的协议,BGP公司将拥有ION公司百分之16.66的股权。根据ION的新闻公告,这一协议仍有待外国投资委员会批准。因为是中国国有企业投资敏感的能源领域,外国投资委员会很有可能进行严格审查。虽然外国投资委员会可能要求两家公司采取措施减少美国国家安全隐患,但这一协议应该可以得到批准。

        美国国会于2007年通过《2007年国外投资国家安全审查法》,这是美国国会继2005年中国海洋石油总公司试图收购美国能源公司UNOCAL;2006年迪拜世界港口公司收购一家管理多个美国港口的英国公司后采取的行动。这些争议使美国国会开始关注以下领域:外国投资委员会,先前的Exon-Florio 审查外资机制,外资对能源、基础设施以及关键技术的控制对美国国家安全可能产生的危害,以及国有企业对美投资。

        《2007年国外投资国家安全审查法》涵盖任何可能导致“国外人士控制美国企业”的情况,也包括企业从某一外国人士转移至另一外国人士的情况,但是并不涵盖对新项目和房地产业的投资。审查重点是对美国企业的“控制”将发生转移,因为控制一词定义很广,所以即使收购少数股份,这一收购仍被《2007年国外投资国家安全审查法》涵盖。

        《2007年国外投资国家安全审查法》对绝大多数收购美国公司的商业行为并不构成障碍,因为虽然它们属于法案涵盖范围;但是根据这一法案,只有当总统认定“外资利益行使控制将危害国家安全”的情况下才能推迟或是禁止这一收购。这一法案以及相应的法规并没有对“国家安全”做出界定,国会则希望外国投资委员会将这一词界定得非常广泛,包括能源、关键材料、关键技术、国土安全和基础设施等。但是,如果被收购的美国企业与国家安全没有关联,则无须担忧《2007年国外投资国家安全审查法》。

        但当某一经济并购可能与国家安全有关时,《2007年国外投资国家安全审查法》提供了审查机制,使公司在获得外国投资委员会后再投入大笔资金。外国投资委员会审查并不是强制性的,但是当公司认为并购可能会对国家安全产生影响时,都自动申请。外国投资委员会批准一并购后,除非其中某一公司提供了虚假信息,这一并购将不再面临任何《2007年国外投资国家安全审查法》指控。

        许多公司充分利用外国投资委员会审查提供的安全港——事先批准:它们根据外国投资委员会审查规定主动向委员会提出申请、提供详尽信息。第一阶段非正式审查为期30天。大多数审查将在30天内获得批准。 

        如果外国投资委员会的任何机构对某一商业交易有任何疑问,为期45天的正式审查开始。涉及的公司通常通过与政府签订缓解协议,缓解政府对国家安全担忧的方式使这一商业交易得到批准。

        缓解协议包括修改已签订的协议、限制新外资拥有者的权利、对关键技术或是设备的额外保护等。只有极少数商业转让带来的国家安全威胁不能减缓。但这些商业活动通常在审查结束前就中止了。外国投资委员会极少建议总统禁止某一商业转让。

      美国仍然承诺开放的投资环境,对国内外投资者一视同仁。因此,国会把初审期限设为30天,与并购中的反垄断审查期限相同。《2007年国外投资国家安全审查法》对外国投资委员会审查的规定并不意味着这一审查是国外投资的重要组成部分,也不比反垄断更繁琐。

        取得外国投资委员会审查批准的关键是事先了解委员会各部门的担忧,富有创意的表明这些担心是多余的,并在需要的时刻递交富有创意的缓解计划。通常,尽早准备,充分考虑政府部门、国会以及公众的意见可保证外国投资委员会审查的顺利进行、确保公司利益。 
 

(翻译:朱晶)