China's investment restrictions: The pendulum swings back
China’s Go Global Policy was initiated in 1999 by the Chinese government to promote Chinese investment abroad, to increase Chinese FDI, pursue diversification and promote Chinese brands in the world. Since the Go Global Policy launch in 1999, and especially after deregulation in 2014, interest in overseas investment by Chinese companies increased significantly. Growing steadily throughout the Go Global Policy lifespan, by 2012 China had reportedly become the world’s third largest outbound investor. As investment scale further increased through 2016, Chinese investors also moved up the value chain with more sophisticated investment targets, and Chinese FDI in Israel is no exception to this trend.
Israel has been a notable part of Chinese outbound investment as the two countries form an ideal economic partnership, with Israel providing innovation to support and fuel China’s ever-growing economy. From a single investment of USD 2.01 million in 2011, we have reached investments of 1.84 billion in 2016 (Source: MOFCOM).
After Dec 2016 however, the bullish global outbound investment trend slowed considerably as Chinese authorities implemented new measures to tighten transaction approvals under pressure of capital outflow and RMB depreciation. We believe that the restrictions and limitations are not an attempt to stop the Go Global Policy, but to check the authenticity of transactions and to improve the quality of transactions.
It appears that Chinese FDI into Israel for the year 2017 has increased, largely on track for another year-to-year increase despite a general slowdown. Moreover, it is apparent that Israeli companies are some of the most sought after investment and acquisition opportunities for Chinese companies, and similarly there has been a gradual increase in the investments of Chinese companies and funds in Israeli venture capital funds.
In August 2017, Chinese authorities clarified the new restrictions instated in Dec 2016, dividing outbound investment into distinct categories: encouraged, restricted, and prohibited. Encouraged investments include high tech, R&D and agriculture. Restricted outbound investments include real estate, hotels, entertainment and sports clubs. Prohibited investments involve industries that threaten national security and the sex and gambling industries.
Most investment into Israel is considered “encouraged”, since most of them are falling within the high tech and technology sectors. Further, during his last visit to China, the Israeli Prime Minister discussed with Chinese authorities to consider easing the approval procedures for Israel-bound investment. With that in mind we believe that Chinese investment in Israel will continue growing and we will see more and more transactions where Chinese investors essentially change their approach to investing in Israeli companies; for example instead of direct investment into an Israeli company, the Chinese investor and Israeli company would set up a local joint venture entity and the Chinese side would invest in the local entity. We’ve seen this trend gain momentum in 2017. Some of the more sizable deals of 2017 were in the form of joint ventures or acquisitions (Source: China Deals InfoBase).
On 1 March 2018, the amendment of Administrative Measures for Overseas Investment by Enterprises will come into force in China with the object of improving supervision, safeguarding national security and supporting the robust development of overseas investment. The main points of the amendment are as follows: (1) expanding the scope of application so that more organizations and investments will be subject to these guidelines; (2) adding a reporting requirement to the NDRC in addition to the existing approval and submission requirements; (3) a pre-authorization requirement has been removed from the NDRC for acquisitions or proposals on projects exceeding $ 300 million; (4) simplification of formal procedures by launching an online platform, and (5) the tightening of foreign investment controls.
Looking forward, with regard to Chinese investments, it seems that the Israeli economy, which traditionally received investments from western countries, has started to rely more and more on investments from China, which are naturally different forms of transactions. Regarding Chinese investment we will advise first to check if payment can be transferred out of China, and to consider the fact that the time required for authority approvals might be longer than before. In addition, we suggest reducing risk by checking the identity of Chinese investors, their previous transactions, the scope of the transaction and add some mechanism to the transaction like milestones, fees, deposit, etc.
It seems that the Chinese trend for continued purchases and investments outside of China will continue to grow. The “encouraged” investment category is a strong statement that reflects that the Chinese government favors foreign innovation in order to boost local development. Israel falls largely into this category, and despite the different investment structures, we expect continued economic cooperation between the two countries.
This article was prepared in collaboration with Laura Otterpohl, Founder, China Deals InfoBase