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Treasury’s New Regs Address Impact of Foreign Investments, Other Deals on National Security

National Security vs. Investment: Are we striking the right balance?

The U.S. Treasury Department’s final regulations, giving it more power to scrutinize any national security risks that may arise from deals between U.S. and foreign companies, are scheduled to go into effect this week, Feb. 13, 2020.

The regs implement the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018 (FIRRMA) and provide the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) broader authority over certain investments and real estate transactions. Critics say the regs will change cross-border M&A deal-making for years to come, and advance increasingly protectionist U.S. policy.

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said the regs will strengthen national security and “modernize the investment review process,” while maintaining “our nation’s open investment policy by encouraging investment in American businesses and workers, and by providing clarity and certainty regarding the types of transactions that are covered.”

We have previously described in the MoginRubin Blog how not everyone shares the Treasury Secretary’s respect for CFIUS.

Financial writer and author Robert Teitelman described it in an article for Barron’s as “a creature from the shadows of the administrative state” that “defines obscurity in the federal government.” He said it “encourages the very practices the administration condemns in China.” Hernan Cristerna, co-head of global mergers and acquisitions at JPMorgan Chase, told the New York Times that CFIUS is the “No. 1 weapon in the Trump administration’s protectionist arsenal” and called it “the ultimate regulatory bazooka.”

Enacted in August 2018, FIRRMA gives CFIUS much greater reach into deals where national security is a potential issue. Specifically, the law extends CFIUS’s jurisdiction over “certain non-controlling investments into U.S. businesses involved in critical technology, critical infrastructure, or sensitive personal data. Big data, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and biotechnology are among the specific technologies the law was designed to protect. It also establishes CFIUS’s jurisdiction over real estate deals.

The regulations limit CFIUS’s application of its expanded jurisdiction to “certain categories of foreign persons,” and has “initially” designated a handful of countries as “excepted foreign states.” They are Australia, Canada, and the U.K., countries with which the U.S. has “robust intelligence sharing and defense industrial base integration mechanisms.” The list may be expanded in the future, according to the regs.

'Controlling interest' redefined.

Attorneys, in-house counsel and other professionals deeply involved in cross-border transactions are already experiencing some nuts and bolts changes that other professionals want to be aware of.

For example, deals that would give foreign companies “controlling interest” are no longer the only deals the committee will examine; it is now interested in deals that would transfer non-controlling but “substantial interest” when critical technologies, critical infrastructure, or the private data of U.S. citizens are involved. Deals that fall into these categories now require filing; previously they were optional. Deals that would once have sailed through scrutiny may now be delayed by investigations. CFIUS also has more time to review transactions. The initial stage ends within 45 days and the second phase can last from 45 to 60 days. Filing fees are set but cannot be more than 1% of the value of the transaction or $300,000, whichever figure is lower. And, of course, there is increased risk that they be ultimately be blocked.

The regs include a new definition of “principal place of business” as the “primary location where an entity’s management directs, controls, or coordinates the entity’s activities, or, in the case of an investment fund, where the fund’s activities and investments are primarily directed, controlled, or coordinated by or on behalf of the general partner, managing member, or equivalent.” If the entity is determined to be in the U.S. and has represented in its most recent submission or filing to a U.S. or foreign government that if either its principal place of business, principal office and place of business, address of principal executive offices, address of headquarters, or equivalent, is outside the U.S. then that location is deemed the entity’s principal place of business unless it can prove that the location has changed since the filing.

These new regulations will impact many purely private cross-border transactions, especially in the areas of critical infrastructure, sensitive personal data, and real estate.

M&A counsel must now consider CFIUS implications early-on, not only to avoid delay and frustration, but to account for CFIUS clearance in deal timing and closing deadlines. Fines may be levied if CFIUS notices are not timely filed. Fund managers who make large investments in U.S. companies can also expect to be asked to represent in deal documents that their funds or investors do not require a mandatory CFIUS filing.

For more background and additional insights, please read our previous post, CFIUS: A Guardian of National Security or a Protectionist Tool? Also, you can download the regulations from the MoginRubin website:  Part-800-Final-Rule-Jan-17-2020  & Part-802-Final-Rule-Jan-17-2020

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