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Watchdog to weigh panel’s power to police foreign takeovers

The Government Accountability Office has agreed to review whether a secretive inter-agency federal committee has enough legal authority to block foreign purchases of U.S. assets that might jeopardize national security interests, North Carolina Rep. Robert Pittenger says.

Pittenger and a fellow North Carolina Republican, Rep. Walter Jones, led a bipartisan group of 16 House members who asked the GAO last month to determine whether the Treasury committee’s authority “has effectively kept pace with the growing scope of foreign acquisitions in strategically important sectors in the U.S.”

The inter-agency panel, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, is responsible for reviewing the national security implications of foreign takeovers of U.S. companies.

Pittenger and his colleagues expressed particular concern about a wave of Chinese takeovers, including by companies designated as “state champions” that allegedly benefit from illegal subsidies from the Beijing government to gain strategic access to foreign markets, including in the United States. Those deals, the House members said in their request to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, might pose a strategic threat, rather than an obvious national security risk.

For example, members of Congress have raised concern about ChemChina’s $43 billion acquisition of Sygenta, an agricultural seed and chemical provider, and what implications it might raise if there are future strains on the U.S. food supply.

The Government Accountability Office is Congress’ investigative arm.

Pittenger said its review would begin in early 2017.

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