China Commerce Minister seeks clearer U.S. investment guide

BEIJING Fri Mar 8, 2013 4:35am EST

Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming attends a news conference during the 23rd session of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) in Washington December 19, 2012. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming attends a news conference during the 23rd session of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) in Washington December 19, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Commerce Minister called for clearer guidelines from the United States on its security review procedures for foreign investment, while saying that China does not target specific countries for overseas investment.

China is studying the procedures of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, as it sets in motion its own security review, Chen Deming told reporters on Friday at a briefing at China's annual parliament session.

China, the world's fifth-largest source of outbound investment, regularly complains that the U.S. blocks access to plum investment prospects on national security grounds.

China's largest-ever foreign takeover, the $15.1 billion purchase of Canadian oil firm Nexen Inc NXY.TO by state-owned oil company CNOOC Ltd. (0883.HK) in February cleared a CFIUS review, its last regulatory hurdle.

The U.S. attached the condition that CNOOC could not operate Nexen's many wells in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, although the Canadian unit could, the Wall Street Journal reported.

"I hope CFIUS can be more open and transparent, because companies never know whether their bid meets the requirements or not," Chen Deming said, adding that "unfair" conditions had been attached to the Nexen approval.

"We need clearer guidelines on what conditions might violate U.S. security, to reduce risk for companies that want to invest. We hope to reduce disappointment and the cost of failed bids."

U.S. treasury officials have sought to include information on CFIUS in regular meetings with Chinese officials, in the hopes that China will adopt some CFIUS features for its new national security review, particularly setting deadlines to respond to investment review requests.

International trading house Glencore (GLEN.L) has been waiting for months for a ruling from MofCom -- which regulates anti-trust issues -- for its planned takeover of zinc miner Xstrata XTA.L.

China has blocked almost all attempts by foreigners to buy steel mills as well as a number of other high-profile deals, for instance an attempt by Coca-Cola (CCE.N) to purchase private juice maker Huiyuan.

Chinese officials regularly bring up CNOOC's failed $18.5 billion attempt to buy U.S. oil firm Unocal in 2005, which the U.S. side blocked over national security concerns. Since then, Chinese investment in the U.S. has soared to about $10 billion, Chen estimated.

"Roughly one dollar of every three dollars we want to invest in the U.S. gets approved, so the approval rate is not very high, but conditions are improving," he said.

"When I meet with American governors or mayors, they really welcome Chinese corporate investment."

Chinese investments in the U.S. now include auto parts, steel and real estate; while most U.S. manufacturing firms operate wholly-owned or joint-venture facilities in China.

CNOOC's deal with Nexen is not the only Chinese energy investment in the United States. Chinese oil company Sinopec has recently announced a shale-gas joint venture with American gas developer Chesapeake Energy (CHK.N).

Asked if China had a strategy to invest in the U.S. energy sector, Chen said Chinese companies determine their own acquisition targets while the government provides support and advice, but does not have strategic targets for specific countries.

Nonetheless, the Chinese government has in the past blocked private Chinese firms' attempts to buy overseas companies. Most recently, China's top planning body said it would not approve a private company's purchase of an African iron ore mine unless state-owned companies had a share in the deal.

(Additional reporting By Shen Yan; Editing by Kim Coghill)

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Find your dream retirement town

Florida? Hawaii? Reuters has teamed up with Zillow to give you the power to customize a list of your best places to retire.  Video | Full Article