U.S. lawmakers seek to ban federal pension fund from investing in China

FILE PHOTO: Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) questions U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Senate foreign Relations Committee hearing on the State Department budget request in Washington, U.S. April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation on Wednesday that would block a federal retirement fund from investing in Chinese stocks.

The group, led by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, say the bill is aimed at reversing a decision to allow federal employees and military service members to invest their retirement savings in a fund that includes China-listed stocks.

Amid heightened U.S.-China trade tensions and efforts to limit the flow of U.S. capital to Chinese companies because of security concerns, Rubio and other senators described that move as “short-sighted,” saying it amounts to “effectively funding the Chinese government and Communist Party’s efforts to undermine U.S. economic and national security.”

In November 2017, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, an independent government agency that oversees the federal retirement plan, decided to shift the index it uses for its international stock investment fund to the broader MSCI All Country World ex-U.S. Investable Market Index, which represents 99% of the international equity market and is 7.5% weighted to Chinese companies. The plan currently relies on another MSCI index that represents just 58% of the international market, and excludes China. The index shift is expected to take effect in the summer of 2020.

The bill attempting to block that move was offered up by a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers, including Democratic senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Jeanne Shaheen, and Republican senators Rubio and Mitt Romney, who was the Republican Party’s nominee for president in 2012.

Representative Mark Meadows, a staunch conservative and ally of President Donald Trump, is offering the same bill in the U.S. House.

The FRTIB administers the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), a retirement savings plan similar to a 401(k), for federal employees and members of the military. As of July 2019, the TSP had $599.5 billion in assets, which are owned by the plan’s participants, who choose which of the TSP’s funds they want to invest in.

The FRTIB is set to discuss its decision at its Nov. 13 meeting and plans to review the legislation, a spokeswoman said.

Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Steve Orlofsky