Geopolitical Monitoring Report | February 17, 2023
China | United States
Technology Deal between Ford and Chinese Battery Maker CATL Facing Review in Both Countries as Trade and Tech Competition between Beijing and Washington Continues
The Ford Motor Company announced plans for a $3.5 billion battery factory in Michigan that will be built with assistance from Chinese battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. (CATL). The new facility will be owned by Ford, but the automaker will license technology and expertise from CATL. The new facility is slated to open in 2026 and Ford expects to produce approximately 2 million electric vehicles annually by the end of that year.
Michigan was chosen for the $3.5 billion facility after Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin pulled his state out of the running, claiming that building the factory would result in taxpayer money being used to “recruit Ford as a front for China.” Ford says the deal with CATL will not result in foreign investment or U.S. tax dollars going to the Chinese battery maker.
However, Senator Marco Rubio announced that his office will seek an immediate Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) review of the deal. This would enable the government to block the deal if it finds that it will threaten national security.US officials are not the only ones who are approaching the announcement with caution. China announced that it will be also reviewing the deal to determine if local technology will be transferred to Ford and is likely to block it if they determine that is taking place.
Ford’s announcement comes at a low point in the US-China relationship following the recent incident involving a Chinese surveillance balloon, which resulted in canceled meetings between US and Chinese officials.
In addition, there is a burgeoning nationwide movement to restrict land purchases in the US by entities linked to China. Lawmakers in both California and Texas have submitted bills to restrict land purchases by China, and a bill to restrict Beijing’s purchase of US farmland has been filed in the US Congress. These developments highlight the growing bifurcation that is developing between the two nations and highlight the inherent risks of engaging in major business transactions with one another that involve new, cutting edge technologies.
There is also the risk that these deals may be halted by governments as a form of retaliation as the economic conflict between China and the US continues to heat up. For example, the recent US restrictions on semiconductor exports may partially explain China’s decision to review the CATL-Ford deal.
Companies that are considering engaging in international partnerships with foreign entities should be aware of the growing desire of governments around the world to protect sensitive technologies in a world that appears increasingly bifurcated between China and the US. They should ensure that they conduct the utmost due diligence on all potential business partners to understand not only the potential sanctions risks that these transactions pose, but to also determine if these transactions may cause reputation risk and backlash in the future.
In addition, companies with overseas supply chains should investigate and ensure that they are not inadvertently engaging sanctioned entities or those that may pose a reputation risk. This could include investigating to see if executives of these organizations have ties to sanctioned entities or organizations that may cause potential reputation risks in the future.
In addition, companies and organizations that are not directly involved with foreign entities may be at a risk due to restrictions on technology transfers if nation-state backed threat actors embark on corporate espionage campaigns aimed at obtaining technologies and knowledge that can no longer be obtained through legitimate business partnerships. Organizations should conduct quality threat landscape assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities and invest in protective intelligence capabilities that will ensure they are able to mitigate any potential threat of this nature.
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