Bills Fly in Response to Dubai Ports Deal

The takeover of terminal operations at some American ports by a Dubai-owned shipping company has generated more than a dozen new bills in Congress. The mildest of these would require more scrutiny of the deal. Others would have much broader implications.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The controversy over a Dubai owned company managing terminals at some U.S. ports has spawned more than a dozen bills in the House and Senate. Some merely require the president to further review the deal, others have more far reaching implications.

NPR's Adam Davidson has this over view of the congressional proposals.

ADAM DAVIDSON reporting: Senator Charles Schumer of New York has been among the first and strongest critics of the Bush administration's Dubai Ports World deal. His bill, though, would have one of the smallest impacts. It simply asks, well, it demands the president conduct an additional review of the deal and report back to Congress. The president has already begun that additional review. So this bill only ensure that the administration will present their findings to Congress, which they probably would have done anyway.

If Schumer's bill is the mildest, the strongest is a House bill that will soon be introduced by Republicans Duncan Hunter of California and Jim Saxton of New Jersey. Representative Saxton says the bill would make it illegal for foreigners to own or manage any critical U.S. infrastructure.

Representative JIM SAXTON (Republican, New Jersey): Americans a far less likely to attack the homeland than perhaps some others are.

DAVIDSON: Saxton says Americans will be much safer if only other Americans own and manage critical infrastructure.

Rep. SAXTON: We know that there is an ideological divide between some people who live in the Eastern Hemisphere and some people who, and the rest of us who live in the Western Hemisphere.

DAVIDSON: The bill does not define critical infrastructure, or explain exactly what foreigners can't own. It leaves that up to the president. In a 2003 report, the Bush administration defined critical infrastructure as agriculture and food, water, energy, transportation, banking, and many other industries. Depending on exactly how infrastructure is defined, this bill could hire foreigners to sell dozens, hundreds or even thousands of companies; everything from Swiss owned Poland Spring water to a Saudi Arabian cargo company at Dulles Airport could be affected.

Rep. SAXON: This is about national security, not about fostering competition. There will be some cost.

DAVIDSON: Most of the 19 or so bills before Congress stand somewhere between Senator Schumer's relatively mild call for further review and Representative Saxton's provisions against foreign ownership. One bill, introduced by Senator Hillary Clinton and others, would make it illegal for any company owned or controlled by foreign governments to operate terminals at U.S. ports. This would likely include Dubai Ports World, as well as the existing management of several terminals, including a Singapore owned company in the Port of Los Angeles, the Venezuelan owned Citgo company's ten marine terminals, and possibly many others. U.S. owned companies manage only eight of about 100 major terminals in the U.S.

Gary Hufbauer of the Institute for International Economics says he is concerned about pretty much all of the bills currently under consideration.

Mr. GARY HUFBAUER (Researcher, Institute for International Economics): Well, if one of these piece of legislation passes, it will be a sign to the world that the United States is taking a new, more nationalistic, more cautious attitude towards investment in the United States by foreign companies.

DAVIDSON: He says limiting foreign investment will cost the country a good deal. Foreigners invest hundreds of billions of dollars a year in the U.S. economy, and U.S. stockholders make a lot of money from investments overseas. We stand to lose at least some of that, he says, if foreign companies retaliate with their own laws barring U.S. ownership abroad.

Adam Davidson, NPR News.

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