Continuing its concerns over the quality of disclosures from companies based in or with a majority of their operations in the People’s Republic of China, in July 2023, the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance published yet another sample comment letter to China-based companies.
Back in April 2020, former SEC Chairman Jay Clayton and a group of senior SEC and PCAOB officials issued a joint statement warning about the risks of investing in emerging markets, especially China, including companies from those markets that are accessing the U.S. capital markets (see HERE). Before that, in December 2018, Chair Clayton, SEC Chief Accountant Wes Bricker and PCAOB Chairman William D. Duhnke III issued a similar cautionary statement, also focusing on China (see HERE).
The Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act (“HFCA”) was adopted on December 18, 2020, requiring both the SEC and the PCAOB to adopt rules and procedures implementing its provisions. The HFCA requires foreign-owned issuers to certify that the PCAOB has been able to audit specified reports and inspect their audit firm within the last three years. If the PCAOB is unable to inspect the company’s public accounting firm for three consecutive years, the company’s securities are banned from trading on a national exchange. For my three-part blog on the HFCA, see HERE; HERE; and HERE.
As part of the HFCA’s implementation, on November 5, 2021, the SEC approved PCAOB Rule 6100 establishing a framework for the PCAOB’s determination that it is unable to inspect or investigate completely registered public accounting firms located in foreign jurisdictions because of a position taken by an authority in that jurisdiction (see HERE). On December 2, 2021, the SEC adopted amendments to finalize rules implementing the submission and disclosure requirements in the HFCA (see HERE) and published a sample letter that could be issued to China-based companies whether on the HFCA list or not (see HERE).
Although quiet on the subject for the past 18 months, the SEC continues to believe that companies should provide more prominent, specific, and tailored disclosures about China-specific matters so that investors have the material information they need to make informed investment and voting decisions.
Sample Comment Letter
The sample comment letter focuses on three main areas: (i) HFCA disclosures; (ii) more specific and prominent disclosure about material risks related to the role of the government of the People’s Republic of China (the PRC) in the operations of China-based Companies; and (iii) material impacts of certain statutes, including the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) adopted in December 2021.
The sample letter contains five multi-faceted comments. In particular, related to being named a “Commission-Identified Issuer” under the HFCA:
- We note your statement that you reviewed public filings in connection with your required submission under paragraph (a) of Item 9C of Form 10-K. Please supplementally describe any additional materials that were reviewed and tell us whether you relied upon any legal opinions or third-party certifications, such as affidavits, as the basis for your submission. In your response, please provide a similarly detailed discussion of the materials reviewed and legal opinions or third-party certifications relied upon in connection with the required disclosures under paragraphs (b)(2) and (3) of Item 9C of Form 10-K.
- In order to clarify the scope of your review, please supplementally describe the steps you have taken to confirm that none of the members of your board or the boards of your consolidated foreign operating entities are officials of the Chinese Communist Party. For instance, please tell us how the board members’ current or prior memberships on, or affiliations with, committees of the Chinese Communist Party factored into your determination. In addition, please tell us whether you have relied upon third-party certifications, such as affidavits, as the basis for your disclosure.
- With respect to your disclosure pursuant to paragraph (b)(5) of Item 9C of Form 10-K, we note that you have included language that such disclosure is “to our best knowledge.” Please supplementally confirm without qualification, if true, that your and your consolidated foreign operating entities’ articles of incorporation do not contain wording from any charter of the Chinese Communist Party.
Related to the risk of intervention or control by the PRC:
- Given the significant oversight and discretion of the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the operations of your business, please describe any material impact that intervention or control by the PRC government has or may have on your business or on the value of your securities. We remind you that, pursuant to federal securities rules, the term “control” (including the terms “controlling,” “controlled by,” and “under common control with”) means “the possession, direct or indirect, of the power to direct or cause the direction of the management and policies of a person, whether through the ownership of voting securities, by contract, or otherwise.
Related to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act:
- We note that you appear to conduct a portion of your operations in, or appear to rely on counterparties that conduct operations in, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. To the extent material, please describe how your business segments, products, lines of service, projects, or operations are impacted by the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), that, among other matters, prohibits the import of goods from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Laura Anthony, Esq.
Anthony L.G., PLLC
A Corporate Law Firm
Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provide ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, public companies as well as private companies going public on the Nasdaq, NYSE American or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For more than two decades Anthony L.G., PLLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service. The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker-dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions, securities token offerings and initial coin offerings, Regulation A/A+ offerings, as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-3, S-8 and merger registrations on Form S-4; compliance with the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including Nasdaq and NYSE American; general corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Ms. Anthony and her firm represent both target and acquiring companies in merger and acquisition transactions, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. The ALG legal team assists Pubcos in complying with the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the small-cap and middle market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, Corporate Finance in Focus. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.
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