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U.S. House seen approving bill blocking Chinese firms from U.S. markets

WASHINGTON/HONG KONG (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass legislation this week that could prevent some Chinese companies from listing their shares on U.S. exchanges unless they adhere to U.S. auditing standards, congressional aides said.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of Alibaba Group is seen during Alibaba Group's 11.11 Singles' Day global shopping festival at a media center in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

The bill would give Chinese companies such as Alibaba, tech firm Pinduoduo Inc. and oil giant PetroChina Co Ltd. three years to comply with U.S. rules before being removed from U.S. markets.

Greater scrutiny could also deter other Chinese firms from listing in the United States, say industry participants. Such listings reached a six-year high this year.

The House is scheduled to vote on Wednesday evening on “The Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act,” which bars securities of foreign companies from being listed on any U.S. exchange if they have failed to comply with the U.S. Public Accounting Oversight Board’s audits for three years in a row.

Aides said there is bipartisan backing for the measure. Measures taking a harder line on Chinese business and trade practices generally pass Congress with large margins.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying described it as a discriminatory policy that politically oppresses Chinese firms.

“Instead of setting up layers of barriers, we hope the U.S. can provide a fair and non-discriminatory environment for foreign firms to invest and operate in the U.S.,” Hua told a news conference.

Chinese authorities have long been reluctant to let overseas regulators inspect local accounting firms, citing national security concerns.

Officials at China’s securities regulator indicated earlier this year they were willing to allow inspections of audit documents in some circumstances, but past agreements aimed at solving the dispute have failed to work in practice.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Senator John Kennedy and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, passed the Senate in May by unanimous consent, so House passage would send it to the White House for U.S. President Donald Trump to veto or sign into law.

Trump is expected to sign the bill if it is approved, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The measure would also require public companies to disclose whether they are owned or controlled by a foreign government.

Shaun Wu, a Hong Kong-based partner at law firm Paul Hastings, said increased enforcement against Chinese companies was likely even though Democrat Joe Biden will become president in January.

He said that if the bill becomes law, “all Chinese companies listed in the U.S. will face enhanced scrutiny by the U.S. authorities and inevitably consider all available options.”

This could include listing in Hong Kong or elsewhere, he said. Several U.S.-listed Chinese firms, including Alibaba and KFC China operator Yum China, have recently carried out secondary listings in Hong Kong.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington and Alun John in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Ana Nicolaci da Costa

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