Chinese investment in US still faces hurdles

Updated: 2013-11-01 07:33

By YU WEI in San Francisco (China Daily USA)

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Chinese investment in the US will likely break another record this year, but a new case study says Chinese companies face tough challenges in the US and have a long way to go to be successful.

The study released by the University of Chicago's Paulson Institute uses Shandong Nanshan Aluminum Co Ltd, China's second-largest aluminum products maker, as an example of Chinese Greenfield investment in the US, pointing out that even as the company has gradually put down roots in the US, it still confronts emerging uncertainties and significant business challenges.

In 2011, Nanshan started to build a $160 million high-end aluminum extrusion plant in Lafayette, Indiana to further tap into the overseas market. In late 2012, its 600,000-square-foot facility commenced operations, marking the first Greenfield investment by a major Chinese metals producer in the US market.

But, the study said, as Nanshan quickly discovered, even a company that puts down roots, creates jobs, and breaks ground on a new manufacturing facility faces a learning curve — sometimes a very steep one — as it seeks to compete and adapt to the US market once its deal is done.

It has to learn before it can hope to prosper, the study said.

One important thing that Nanshan has learned is a great deal about US management and human resources practices. In its Indiana plant, with the exception of three Chinese, all of its other 90 or so employees are American, according to the study.

Paulson fellow Damien Ma, who directed the case study, said it’s no surprise that Nanshan decided to hire Americans.

"It is always important to localize your human capital if you’re a foreign investor," Ma said. "Western multinationals engage in very similar practices when they enter and invest in the China market — they almost always hire locally."

In the first nine months of 2013, Chinese firms spent a record $12.2 billion on 55 Greenfield projects and acquisitions in the US, well on the way to a new record of Chinese foreign direct investment in the US, according to a newly released China report by research firm Rhodium Group, which tracks Chinese overseas investment.

Chinese firms spent $7.5 billion on 10 acquisitions and eight Greenfield projects in the US in the third quarter of this year, according to Rhodium. Big transactions included Shuanghui International’s takeover of Smithfield Foods for $7.1 billion, marking by far the largest Chinese acquisition in the US.

"Brands and technology are increasingly important to Chinese investors because that’s where Chinese companies and the Chinese economy at large want to go," Ma said, adding that China is at a stage of development where it needs to climb the value-added and technological ladder to sustain dynamism and growth.

"Many Chinese companies have ambitions to become global brands, not just serving the domestic Chinese market," said Ma. "This trend is likely to continue, because it aligns with where China is moving toward on the home front."

Ma believes that the wave of Chinese investments in the US remains a robust and enduring economic relationship.

"It’s a relationship built over 35, 40 years, and has been very successful. The two countries already have an enormous trade relationship that’s north of half a trillion dollars," He said. "Now, I think creating stronger two-way investments will perpetuate and strengthen the economic relationship, and making further progress on a Bilateral Investment Treaty will certainly help with that effort."

Nicholas Hope, director of the Stanford Center for International Development, said from his own investigations, there is a growing interest by Chinese companies to invest in the US.

"My fervent hope is that the interest from China will last a very long time and result in a very positive atmosphere of cooperation between the two nations as the stock of assets held by each in the other burgeons," Hope said.