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Foreign investment in U.S. dropping dramatically under Trump

President Donald Trump's upending of global trade deals since taking office last year has produced at least one major shift in the world's trade winds: Net foreign direct investment in the U.S. -- or total investments through acquisitions and direct stakes in real estate like production facilities and research centers -- has slid every quarter since Mr. Trump was elected in 2016.

The plunge in foreign investment may be hastening a transition to a "post-American world economy," Adam Posen, president of the Peterson International Institute, argued last week in article in Foreign Affairs magazine that tracked the investment drop. "It's a world in which the U.S. is less of a safe haven [for foreign capital]," he said. 

Net foreign direct investment, or net FDI in economists' shorthand, dropped to $51.3 billion in the first quarter, a 37 percent fall from the same quarter in 2017 and a 65 percent decline from the first quarter of 2016, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released earlier this month. 


The plunge in net FDI comes even as the U.S. economy booms, helped by last year's tax cuts, something that should make investing in the U.S. more attractive.  

When tariffs are imposed, economists usually see what Posen calls "tariff jumping," or a rush to invest and do as many deals as possible to assure access to U.S. markets before the trade barrier goes up.  

"We're not seeing that," Posen told CBS MoneyWatch in an interview. "If anything, we're seeing the opposite."

Another consequence of dwindling net FDI: fewer higher paying jobs as investments go elsewhere, Posen argues. While it's easier to spot higher-paying jobs in developing countries, investment in the U.S. brings better-paying jobs here, too, he said. Big investments -- like a new auto plant or research center -- are made with decades of return on investments in mind.

More changes are coming. Congress is about to expand the U.S.'s ability to examine foreign investments in American assets, including acquisitions, in a strengthening of rules to protect intellectual property -- a move that's partly aimed at China. 

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The legislation, attached to the defense bill, expands the powers of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS. This committee, led by the Treasury secretary, considers whether a foreign investment poses a risk to America's national security. These reviews apply to all countries -- not just China -- and are conducted on a case-by-case basis. The current legislation is less draconian than initial drafts last fall that some argued would have made it too hard for many foreign investors.

Still, the new rules are "obviously very much motivated by concerns about China," Posen said. "It's not that the U.S. is in a vacuum, and it's not all the Trump administration, but it is an unraveling of the order that people are feeling this insecure. That the U.S. is setting the precedent and enforcing the rules isn't enough. They're willing to throw out quite a bit of the baby with the bathwater in economic growth terms, in FDI terms."

On Monday, another report from the BEA confirmed China's pullback from the U.S. last year, according to The Wall Street Journal, down from a high in 2016.

Recent rhetoric from Mr. Trump also included a threat to slap tariffs on $500 billion of Chinese goods -- pretty much everything imported from the country to the U.S. It's that kind of uncertainty that can hold back FDI, Posen said. 

Last week, Mr. Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Junckner announced an agreement to work toward resolving trade issues. The show of comity came little more than two weeks after Mr. Trump called the EU a "foe" and carried few specific details. But it appears to have staved off anxiety, at least temporarily, that the president would impose a threatened 20 percent tariff on autos.

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