U.S. SEC begins rollout of law aimed at delisting Chinese firms

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. securities regulator on Wednesday said it has adopted regulations, drawn up by Congress, that would kick foreign companies off American stock exchanges if they do not comply with U.S. auditing standards.

The Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, signed into law by then-President Donald Trump in December, aims to remove Chinese companies from U.S. exchanges if they fail to comply with U.S. auditing standards for three years in a row.

While it applies to companies from any country, the legislation’s sponsors intended it to target Chinese companies listed in the United States, such as Alibaba, tech firm Pinduoduo Inc and oil giant PetroChina Co Ltd.

The legislation aimed to address long-held concerns over the SEC’s inability to properly vet Chinese companies listed in the United States. That is because the Chinese government, citing national security concerns, is reluctant to let overseas regulators inspect local accounting firms which audit those Chinese companies.

Lawmakers said they were worried U.S. investors were being put at risk by exposure to Chinese companies that are not held to the same standard as domestic companies. Some investment experts have also raised concerns that U.S. investors may effectively be funding instruments of the Chinese government, a U.S. adversary.

The SEC Wednesday amendments will require companies to prove to the regulator that they are not owned or controlled by an entity of a foreign government, and also require disclosures on audit arrangements and government influence, the SEC said.

The agency fast-tracked the rule through “interim final amendments,” but is seeking public comments on a process for identifying foreign companies to which the legislation should apply. Determining which entities the measure should apply to may prove challenging, given many companies have complex structures with subsidiaries or shell units registered in other jurisdictions.

The legislation required the SEC to issue rules around how companies should submit documentation within 90 days of enactment.

It is still “actively assessing” how to roll out the rest of the law’s requirements, including the identification process and trading prohibition requirements, the statement said.

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