Sens. Grassley and Brown: Big foreign investments in US need closer scrutiny to protect economic security

Fostering an advantageous economic climate is a multifaceted and continually moving target. Fluctuating regulatory demands, uncertainty in trade agreements and shifting international partnerships are just some of the factors that impact the success of the American economy.

Yet there are specific measures that Congress can put in place to increase stability, secure American interests and create opportunity for American businesses, farmers and innovators. 

Capital-intensive industries, such as farming and manufacturing, require money to make money. So we welcome our trading partners to do business with us, invest here and buy products made in America. However, deep-pocketed foreign investors and state-owned enterprises should not be given license to buy up America.  

The United States can’t afford to take a back seat to any competitor. In the American heartland, factories and farms are the lifeblood of good people working hard to make a decent living. The federal government needs to stand strong for the founding principles and hardworking citizens who make America great.

That’s why we are sounding a wake-up call to a sleeper issue looming on the economic landscape that has the potential to unravel the American Dream for generations to come. Unfettered foreign ownership of U.S. private enterprise and industry will have long-term consequences to our nation’s economy, foreign policy, national security and federal revenue.

Don’t be fooled – foreign investment and ownership of U.S. businesses affect working families and household breadwinners on Main Street.

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, foreign direct investment in the United States reached a record $348 billion in 2015, an increase from $201 billion in 2013.

With more foreign-based mergers and acquisitions underway, it’s important to make sure long-term economic consequences are considered – from outsourcing U.S. jobs to losing ownership of sensitive technologies and infrastructure. Consider that half of pork-processing facilities in the United States are foreign-owned.

Strategic foreign investments impact matters of energy security, food security and national security. That’s why the U.S. has a regime in place to weigh national security interests, known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

However, the federal government doesn’t consider the impact on American jobs and the economy or if trade reciprocity exists between the U.S. and the country from which the foreign-based acquisition or merger originates.

Why should state-owned enterprises from another country that does not treat our businesses fairly be allowed to buy great American companies? They should not be allowed to do that without scrutiny.

That’s why we are working to elevate the long-term economic interests of America and fully vet a foreign entity’s acquisition of domestic assets, technologies and intellectual properties.

Contrary to widespread belief that bipartisanship is buried six feet under the swamp, we are bringing Midwestern sensibility to the policymaking table. We’ve teamed up to introduce the United States Foreign Investment Review Act, to trigger a timely review by the U.S. commerce secretary to analyze foreign investments – especially state-owned enterprises – that may harm the strategic economic interests of American business and industry.

Specifically, foreign transactions worth more than $1 billion, as well as any investment or acquisition by a state-owned enterprise worth more than $50 million would be subject to mandatory review.

The majority party and minority party leaders of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees would also have the authority to request a review by the Commerce Department for foreign investment of any value.

Based on a review of the domestic economic impact and any trade barriers that may exist between the U.S. and the country from which the investment originates, the Commerce Department would have the authority to approve, prohibit or require modification of a transaction.

Our bill would avert bureaucratic foot-dragging by requiring that all reviews by the Department of Commerce be acted upon within 60 days of written notification. All decisions would be made public, including an annual written report to Congress detailing the results of its reviews.

We are championing stronger oversight tools to help ensure long-term economic interests aren’t lost for good. Keeping our eyes on the road ahead will help ensure America’s brightest days are yet to come, not relegated to the rearview mirror.

We are committed to fostering the best investment climate that allows U.S. companies and start-ups to drive innovation, economic growth and job creation here at home so that American workers can achieve prosperity well into the 21st century and beyond.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is a Democrat representing Ohio.

Chuck Grassley is a Republican from Iowa, is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and sponsor of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.