The US House of Representatives is expected to pass legislation this week that could prevent some Chinese companies from listing their shares on US exchanges unless they adhere to US auditing standards, congressional aides said on Tuesday.
The bill would give Chinese companies like Alibaba, tech firm Pinduoduo Inc. and oil giant PetroChina Co Ltd. three years to comply with US rules before being removed from US markets.
Greater scrutiny could also deter other Chinese firms from listing in the United States, say, industry participants. Such listings reached a six-year high this year.
The House is scheduled to vote on Wednesday evening on "The Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act," which bars securities of foreign companies from being listed on any US exchange if they have failed to comply with the US Public Accounting Oversight Board's audits for three years in a row.
Aides said there is bipartisan backing for the measure. Measures taking a harder line on Chinese business and trade practices generally pass Congress with large margins.
Chinese authorities have long been reluctant to allow overseas regulators to inspect local accounting firms, citing national security concerns.
Officials at China's securities regulator indicated earlier this year that they were willing to allow inspection of audit documents in some circumstances, but past agreements aimed at solving the long-standing dispute have failed to work in practice.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Senator John Kennedy and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, passed the Senate in May by unanimous consent, so House passage would send it to the White House for US President Donald Trump to veto or sign into law.
Trump, a strong critic of China's business practices, is expected to sign the bill if it is approved, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The measure also would require public companies to disclose whether they are owned or controlled by a foreign government.
"Even as a new Biden administration is set to take over from January 2021, we will likely still see increased enforcement against Chinese companies," said Shaun Wu, a Hong Kong-based partner at law firm Paul Hastings.
If the bill becomes law, "all Chinese companies listed in the U.S. will face enhanced scrutiny by the US authorities and inevitably consider all available options," he said, adding this could include a listing in Hong Kong or elsewhere.
Several US-listed Chinese firms, including Alibaba and KFC China operator Yum China, have recently carried out secondary listings in Hong Kong.