State officials' trade trips yield deals with Chinese firms

Updated: 2013-04-25 11:01

By Chen Jia (China Daily)

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State officials' trade trips yield deals with Chinese firms

With China a top target for US cities and states seeking foreign investment, California Governor Jerry Brown brought home the bacon from his recent weeklong trip to the country.

The state could be a magnet for up to $60 billion in Chinese investment by 2020, according to New York-based consultancy Rhodium Group. Brown led a trade delegation that tried to tie deals to such sentiments.

On April 10 in Beijing, the governor announced a $1.5 billion investment in Oakland that involves two developers, China's Zarsion Holdings Group and locally based Signature Development Group. The two firms will cooperate on a 3,100-unit waterfront housing complex named Brooklyn Basin that also includes retail shops, parks and a marina.

Brown's visit also included meetings with potential investors in renewable energy, biology and chemistry, medicine and other sectors. The official reopening of California's foreign-trade office in Shanghai during his stop was enhanced by the announcement of four other deals between, bringing the total potential value of the gubernatorial visit to between $245 million and $295 million in Chinese investment.

Richmond, in Northern California, will get financing for a new pharmaceutical factory, thanks to a joint investment of $50 million from two Beijing-based companies, Joinn Laboratories and Staidson.

For Brown, a staunch supporter of alternative energy, environmental protection was also a priority in China. Two energy companies, China Coal Mengda's chemical unit and China National Coal, will invest $20 million to cooperate with McWong International and New Logic Research Inc for a zero-emission wastewater-treatment facility.

In Southern California, China Hongye Group will invest $100 million to Singpoli, a real estate investment firm in the Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia. The capital will finance research and development into renewable energy, biotechnology and real estate.

Other possible cooperation in offing involves Ningbo University and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, for a research program worth up $125 million.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee also visited China on a trade trip this month, but a plan to secure for the city a long-awaited $1.7 billion housing investment fell through.

That project called for China Development Bank to help finance two huge developments led by US-based home builder Lennar Corp - as many as 20,000 homes on the site of two former US Navy bases, Treasure Island and Hunters Point Shipyard.

Changes in leadership at the Chinese bank and US tax laws complicated negotiations a year after they began and prompted the deal's collapse, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Some people familiar with Chinese outbound investment said the deal's collapse might not be such a bad thing.

"Although quite a few US reports said the reason for the collapse of the deal was that China Development Bank wanted more control over the project, I seriously doubt that was the primary cause," said Jian Chen, an adjunct professor of finance at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University.

He theorized that standard terms of commercial loans could have scuttled the deal - things like interest rates and collateral.

If a developer can't repay the principal and interest on time, the bank would have the right to seize the collateral or take control of the property being developed, Chen pointed out, adding that a bank would prefer that the project generate enough cash flow to repay its debt.

"An alternative explanation is that the general contractor, CRC, was facing a hard reality that it would have to hire a lot of local workers, given the deal struck by Lennar and local trade unions," he said, referring to China Railway Construction Corp, one of the country's biggest builders.

CDB had been willing to lend $1.7 billion on the condition that CRC be the primary construction contractor on the San Francisco properties.

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