February 29, 2008
GAO Issues Report on Foreign Investment
The GAO issued a report (GAO-08-320) on Laws and Policies Regulating Foreign Investment in 10 Countries, conducted at the request of the Honorable Richard Shelby, Ranking Member, Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senate and updating a 1996 study. The Report found:
As is the case in the United States, the countries we reviewed have enacted laws and instituted policies regulating foreign investment, often to address national security concerns. However, each of the 10 countries has its own concept of national security that influences which particular investments may be restricted. As a result of the differing concepts, restrictions range from requiring approval of investments in a narrowly defined defense sector to broad restrictions on the basis of economic security and cultural policy. In addition, some countries have recently made changes to their laws and policies to more explicitly identify national security as an area of concern, in some cases as the result of controversial investments. Several countries have also introduced lists of strategic sectors in which foreign investment requires government review and approval.
While there are many unique characteristics of the systems employed by the 10 countries to regulate foreign investment, in many ways the systems are similar to each other, and to the U.S. process under Exon-Florio. Eight countries use a formal review process—usually conducted by a government economic body with input from government security bodies—to review a transaction. Generally, national security is a primary factor or one of several factors considered in evaluating transactions. While the concepts of national security vary from country to country, all countries share concerns about a core set of issues. These include, for example, the defense industrial base, and more recently, investment in the energy sector and investment by state-owned enterprises and sovereign wealth funds. Most countries have established time frames for the review and can place conditions on transactions prior to approval. For example, a country may place national citizenship requirements on company board members.
However, unlike the voluntary notification under Exon-Florio, most countries’ reviews are mandatory if the investment reaches certain dollar thresholdsor if the buyer will obtain a controlling or blocking share in the acquired company. Further, unlike the United States, five countries allow decisions to be appealed through administrative means or in court.
Two countries do not have a formal review process. The Netherlands restricts entry into certain sectors such as public utilities, and the UAE restricts the extent of ownership allowed in all sectors without a review. In addition to the formal mechanisms, there are unofficial factors that may influence investment in each of the 10 countries. For example, in some countries an informal government preapproval for sensitive transactions may be needed.
In commenting on a draft of this report, the Department of the Treasury emphasized the United States’ commitment to an open investment policy.
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