U.S. lawmakers who killed a deal that would have
transferred management of terminals in six U.S. ports to an Arab company say
they will forge ahead with legislation targeting foreign ownership of critical
The plans sent shockwaves through U.S. business groups, who are worried that
such a move could discourage international investment in the U.S. and invite
retaliation against U.S. corporations abroad.
The United Arab Emirates-owned company, DP World, said Thursday that it was
abandoning its quest to take over six U.S. ports, a day after Congress' House
appropriations committee voted 62-2 to bar DP World from holding leases or contracts
at U.S. shipping facilities.
However, Congressional leaders vowed that they would still pursue new regulations
banning foreign ownership of infrastructure related to national security, such
as domestic airlines, and alter what is now a controversial review process of
One proposal under consideration in Congress would establish citizenship and
other requirements for companies that own or control critical infrastructure
assets, and would require existing foreign owners to divest their shares in
The proposals would change how Committee on Foreign Investment in the United
States (CFIUS), which represents 12 U.S. departments and agencies, vets deals
for their national security implications.
This week, Duncan Hunter, a California Republican and chairman of the House
Armed Services Committee, co-sponsored the National Defense Critical Infrastructure
Protection Act of 2006, which defines "critical infrastructure" as
"any system or asset, physical or virtual, that is so vital to the United
States that the incapacity or destruction of the system or asset would have
a debilitating effect on national security, economic security or public health
Democrats in Congress also vowed to make the controversial ports deal a major
issue in the upcoming midterm congressional elections.
"We feel Dubai Ports World has given us a great opportunity to talk about
these issues and how we would do things differently," said Senator Charles
E. Schumer, a Democrat from New York who had sponsored an amendment to bury
the DP deal.
U.S. businesses initially stayed silent during the firestorm, giving only tepid
backing for the DP deal, but the rising opposition in Congress that has now
extended to possible action against all foreign investments in the United States
has clearly nudged them to speak out.
Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), a business
lobby group, said that such an action "would send the wrong message to
our allies and potentially backfire on the United States."
This concern was echoed by numerous other business groups, including the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Council for International Business (USCIB), the
National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the Business Roundtable, all
important trade and industry lobbies.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a statement Thursday that Congress should
not interfere in the review process, and warned that any legislation that alters
the role CFIUS plays in deciding the viability of these types of sales could
have dangerous implications for the future of foreign direct investment in the
"While the security of the American people and our critical infrastructure
must always be a top priority, implementing laws that could harm the health
of our economy in the name of national security would be a grave mistake,"
said Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs at the Chamber.
Several business groups have also written to congressional leaders urging them
not to change the regulations.
"Foreign investments in shipping terminals at U.S. ports in particular
have been significant. Yet while foreign companies may own and operate these
terminals, U.S. national security at our ports has been and will continue to
be managed by the U.S. government, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection
and other units of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security," the groups
The United States has spearheaded a drive to eliminate trade barriers, often
admonishing countries that protect their own local industries and using its
political and economic clout to force open markets in developing nations.
U.S. business groups fear that the now-derailed DP ports deal could harden
resistance to ongoing attempts by the George W. Bush administration and U.S.
corporations to take a bigger bite of markets in the cash-rich Gulf nations,
including the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Meanwhile, talks were postponed Friday on a U.S.-UAE free trade agreement
a major step in the larger plan to establish a Middle East Free Trade Agreement
(MEFTA), which the administration hopes will link the United States to 22 Arab
nations and Israel.
MEFTA could potentially open a market of more than 300 million people to U.S.
The USCIB said in a statement that the failure of the DP deal "damages
both the credibility of the U.S. government and its ability to further our national
Business Roundtable President John J. Castellani warned that pending legislation
in Congress "would also provide a road map for discrimination against U.S.
foreign investment overseas."
According to the Roundtable, foreign investors in the U.S. employ over five
million people here and invested almost 80 billion dollars last year alone.
In 2004, the most recent year for which data is available, foreign direct investment
in the United States grew by eight percent, to 1.5 trillion dollars, following
five percent growth in 2003. Foreign-owned companies have contributed almost
500 billion dollars per year to the U.S. gross domestic product, and account
for one-fifth of U.S. exports.
Direct investment by Arab companies in the United States totaled roughly 9.3
billion dollars in 2004.
(Inter Press Service)