CHINESE UPDATE – Limitations on Overseas Direct Investment, A First Step of Temporary Capital Controls?

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During this sensitive time when capital control measures are about to come out, through an interview of officials of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (“SAFE”), the Xinhua News Agency on December 8 revealed the details and direction of policy on the recent tightening of overseas direct investment (“ODI“).  The effects on ODI from the tightening of policy restrictions, starting from several months past and up to present, are rapidly magnifying.

At the opening of the news interview, it was stated that cross-border capital flows were generally stable, and according to monitoring, there was no finding that desire for foreign exchange purchases by enterprises or individuals would surge sharply; however, it was pointed out that a large number of ODI projects have already been placed under scrutiny of various departments (i.e., NDRC, MOFCOM, PBOC, and SAFE).  During the interview, SAFE officials pointed out that four categories are considered abnormal circumstances of ODI behavior: (1) newly established enterprises without substance of business carry out overseas investment; (2) the scale of overseas investment is far greater than the registered capital of the domestic parent company, and the operational status as reflected by financial statements of the parent company is not comparable to support the scale of overseas investment; (3) no correlation exists between the main business of the domestic parent company and the overseas investment project; (4) the RMB used for investment obtains from an abnormal source, being suspect of illegally transferring assets for Chinese individuals and illegal operation of underground money exchange.  Having such a wide range for the definitional scope of abnormal behavior is really rare.  From the perspective of SAFE, only enterprises with the capability and qualification can make overseas direct investment, while pooling of funds by individual investors for conducting overseas direct investment does not conform to the so-called “authenticity and compliance” principle.

In addition, this interview once again mentioned the ways of foreign exchange payment violations by individuals, that is by way of split where the annual remittance quotas of other individuals are used in performing fund remittances; as well as the possible consequences of such violations, that is these individuals might be put on an “Attention Name List,” and have their annual remittance quotas for the next two years canceled, and where circumstances are serious, be put on file for punishment.

Our Interpretation: Except for ODIs conducted by enterprises possessing ample financial strength and where the ODI is closely related with the main business of such enterprises, other types of ODI would basically be stopped.  In addition, there is a large possibility that the next step of SAFE will be to take further steps in regulatory and enforcement measures regarding overseas investment by individuals.