U.S. China envoy Baucus woos investors in infrastructure

BEIJING Mon May 19, 2014 7:16am EDT

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BEIJING May 19 (Reuters) - U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus on Monday tried to entice Chinese investors with U.S. infrastructure projects, emphasising the countries' economic ties in some of the first high-profile remarks of his new tenure.

The United States needs to invest more than $8 trillion in facilities for transport, energy and water alone through 2030, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study has estimated.

Like a string of ambassadors before him, Baucus, a former Montana senator who arrived in Beijing in March, has made it his immediate priority to boost the commercial and economic links between the world's two biggest economies.

Stronger economic ties would help resolve a host of thorny political and security challenges, Baucus stressed at an investment forum at the U.S. Embassy.

"As we all know, the United States is more than open for business," Baucus said.

"America really needs to repair its infrastructure. The roads, the highways, bridges, and airports need repair and need to be rebuilt in many cases. Frankly, that means there is a huge opportunity."

At the forum, which was closed to media except for the opening remarks, U.S. officials from states and cities, including California, Texas and Washington state and San Francisco, offered details on potential projects.

Chinese firms have been quickening the pace of overseas investment in recent years, with their footprint expanding from Asia to Africa and Europe.

China's outbound foreign direct investment reached $87.8 billion in 2012, up 17.6 percent over the previous year, according to Commerce Ministry data. The United States was the second largest destination of that investment after Hong Kong, at more than $4 billion, an annual increase of 124 percent.

But some in China have complained that some deals have been stymied by cultural or political resistance.

Baucus tried to soothe the concerns of potential investors over security reviews by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews transactions that would bring U.S. businesses under foreign ownership, in light of national security concerns.

Most CFIUS reviews are approved, though high-profile rejections have fed perceptions that the process creates high hurdles for investors from abroad, particularly from China, which is viewed as a strategic competitor.

"CFIUS is not near the problem that some people think," Baucus said. "I know politically, sometimes, it's used. But we have to cut through the politics and get down to the economics and I can tell you it is not an issue." (Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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