CONGRESS SUFFERS occasional attacks of anxiety over the foreign investments pouring into this country and asks whether Americans are losing control of their economy. In that spirit, the House has written a misconceived and damaging registration requirement into its version of the trade bill. The House worries a lot about Japan.
Although Japanese investment in this country is growing, most of the long-term investment -- the kind that means control of companies and property -- is still coming from Western Europe. Foreign investment in this country last year came to $144 billion, but nearly five-sixths of it had nothing to do with control of companies. It was portfolio investment -- bank deposits and securities in volumes not large enough to gain influence over companies.
The kind of foreign investment that implies some degree of real control -- direct investment, as the statisticians call it -- came to $25 billion last year. Of that, according to the Commerce Department, $20 billion came from Europe. Among individual countries, Britain led with $7.8 billion of direct investment here. The Netherlands was second with $5.9 billion, although some of that money came originally from elsewhere in Europe. Japan was third, with $4.1 billion.
The British performance is remarkable. With the abolition of exchange controls by Mrs. Thatcher and the acceleration of its domestic economy, Britain is rapidly rebuilding the great structure of worldwide investment that it largely sold off, a generation ago, to pay for its defense in World War II.
While the amounts of foreign money coming here are large, Americans' direct investment abroad is larger. Last year it was $28 billion. Americans now own about 15 percent of British manufacturing industry, while Britons own barely 1 percent of American manufacturing.
The trade bill, as the House passed it, would impose very extensive financial reporting rules on foreign direct investment here. The Europeans, who would be most affected, protest that these rules would by no means be neutral. They would require foreign investors to disclose much more than American companies do, revealing business strategies to their American competitors' advantage. These new requirements would also violate international agreements that the United States has signed. Meanwhile, of course, American trade negotiators are hard at work trying to persuade other countries to open their doors wider to a free flow of foreign investment, on grounds that it benefits everybody.