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States everywhere are tightening the control of foreign buyers

Washington does not hide its ambitions for extra-territorial control. London and Berlin also want to toughen their devices. Paris is between two waters.

The United States adopted in mid-August a mechanism for controlling foreign acquisitions, with an extra-territorial vocation.  / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN

On August 13, Donald Trump tightened the border control of foreign buyers a step further. The American president has put the finishing touches to the FIRRMA (Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act), the inspection system for redemptions carried out by international investors included in his defense program. The new version considerably strengthens the power of its supervisory body, the CFIUS (Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States), already one of the toughest in the world with China. These control measures, which will come into force in 18 months, and are aimed primarily at Chinese groups, give it the power to identify all forms of operations that amount to rampant attempts to take control of American companies by third countries, through private false noses.

Legal arsenal

The CFIUS will have a mandate to examine all dormant or minority shareholdings and real estate transactions (particularly sensitive when they are located near State facilities). Above all, its mission will be to develop cooperation with foreign allied states to control any operation that would undermine American national security, even outside its territory. “ In other words, he now officially has an extra-territorial mission, a power that he had until then exercised opportunistically as during the sale of Aixtron in Germany in 2016 during which he had alerted the German government.“, Analyzes the specialist Pascal Dupeyrat.

But the United States is not alone. At the end of July, the United Kingdom, despite its need to attract foreign investors with Brexit, published a proposal aimed at tightening up controls on strategic acquisitions against China. As for Germany, traumatized by a Chinese takeover bid for its flagship of robotic innovation Kuka, it has just rejected two transactions this summer and announced that it wants to further toughen its system. She had already tightened it in 2017.

Berlin blocks two operations

France finds itself in the middle of the ford. While at the beginning of the year, Bruno Le Maire had shouted at the “looting” organized by Chinese buyers in France and announced a strengthening of the control of foreign acquisitions, his reform is pending. The review of the Pacte law, which includes measures to tighten sanctions against buyers who fail to meet certain commitments, has yet to be examined in Parliament. The main announcement, aimed at expanding the number of sectors subject to controls by artificial intelligence, space, data storage or semiconductors, must be the subject of a decree after the adoption of this law.

Finally, Bercy surprised this summer by not examining the sale to Chinese Tsinghua of the supplier of circuits for smart cards Linxens for 2.2 billion euros. A company deemed “non-strategic”, says the ministry, while this sector is in the sights of large supervisory authorities in the world in the face of the appetites of the Middle Empire.