(Bloomberg) — The U.S. accounting watchdog is insisting that Beijing provide complete access to audits of Chinese companies that trade in New York, setting a high bar for any deal that allows the firms to maintain their American listings.
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Public Company Accountability Oversight Board inspectors must have the same visibility into Chinese audit work papers as they get for businesses based in other countries, the watchdog said in a statement Wednesday. The PCAOB added that it remains “actively engaged” in seeking to resolve a long-running standoff with Chinese officials over the inspection requirement, which applies to all companies whose shares trade in the U.S.
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While Washington and Beijing have been at odds for two decades over the mandate, the issue prompted action on Capitol Hill at the end of the Trump administration, when U.S. lawmakers required that non-compliant firms be delisted. The law is particularly threatening to companies based in China and Hong Kong because Beijing has refused to grant access to corporate audits, citing national security concerns.
“The PCAOB must be able to inspect and investigate these audit firms completely,” the watchdog said in its statement. “All firms auditing public companies must play by the same rules.”
Since Congress passed the law in 2020, the PCAOB and Securities and Exchange Commission have been laying the groundwork for identifying and delisting companies that don’t comply. Firms face removal if they shirk requirements for three straight years, meaning they could be kicked off the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq as soon as 2024.
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Earlier this month, the SEC started publishing a “provisional list” of stocks that could face removal. While the move had long been telegraphed, it fueled a sharp decline in U.S. shares of companies based in China and Hong Kong. China’s securities regulator issued a statement last week saying “positive progress” had been made in talks over the issue.
Chinese shares jumped Wednesday after President Xi Jinping’s government said it supports firms whose shares trade overseas and that progress was being made in talks with U.S. regulators. Nasdaq’s Golden Dragon China Index of companies listed in the U.S. surged 33% — its biggest advance on record.
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Amid the rally, Senators Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, both warned in interviews that companies must comply fully with U.S. rules if they want to keep trading on American exchanges.
Any deal between the U.S. and China should avoid “enormous loopholes that make it meaningless,” Rubio said.
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