Ports Deal Prompts Politicians to Look at Ownership Issues

In the wake of the Dubai Ports World deal, some members of Congress want to crack down on foreign ownership of ports.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And in other news, members of Congress are set to consider a number of bills that would tighten restrictions on foreign investments in the United States, following the Dubai Ports deal.

The agreement would have allowed Dubai Ports World to manage some terminals at six major U.S. ports. The company now says its U.S. operations will be transferred to a U.S. entity.

But as NPR's Nancy Marshall-Genzer reports, some members of Congress still want to crack down on foreign ownership.

NANCY MARSHALL-GENZER reporting:

House Arms Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter is among a growing number of lawmakers who want more say over who buys what in the U.S. The California Republican is sponsoring legislation making infrastructure deemed critical to Homeland Security off-limits for foreign investors.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Hunter insisted it would be just a small slice of the investment pie.

Representative DUNCAN HUNTER (Republican, California): All we're asking to foreclose to foreign ownership is a tiny percentage of that vast array of economic opportunities. Let's let people buy apartments in Chicago, or farmland Iowa, but they can't own and operate port operations.

Professor PETER MORICI (University of Maryland): I think this legislation is a mistake.

MARSHALL-GENZER: That's University of Maryland Business Professor Peter Morici. He doesn't like Hunter's legislation and other similar bills, because they would be a dramatic departure for Congress. Thirty years ago a special outside committee was created to approve international business deals. The idea was to keep Congress out so the process wouldn't become politicized. Morici is afraid Congress will scare away foreign investors.

Professor MORICI: We don't want to create an environment in which people think that they're vulnerable in the United States. Right now the United States has a reputation of being an open place where you can come and make a profit, and you can contribute to our economy by bringing what you know. For example, look at the fine job Toyota has done of building cars here. We don't want to discourage the Toyotas of the world from coming.

MARSHALL-GENZER: Lawmakers who support reform say they can step up oversight of foreign deals without politicizing the review process. Economists such as Morici don't see how that would be possible.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer, NPR News, Washington.

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