er efforts by an Arab company to buy U.S. port operations has focused attention on a little noticed economic fact of life: America increasingly is foreign-owned.

Morgan Morel
A ship passes the New York skyline on Friday. Republicans blocked a Democratic effort last Wednesday to force House votes on expanding government scrutiny of foreign investments, the latest fallout of the failed Dubai ports deal. (AP Photo)

From the ritzy Essex House hotel in Manhattan, owned by the Dubai Investment Group, to the nationwide chains of Caribou Coffee and Church’s Chicken, owned by another company serving Arab investors, foreigners are buying bigger and bigger chunks of the country.

The U.S. must borrow more than $2 billion per day from foreigners to finance its huge trade deficits. In 2005, for example, there was a record deficit of $805 billion in the current account, the broadest measure of trade.

Foreigners sell their televisions, cars and oil to Americans and hold dollars in return. Those dollars are invested in stocks, bonds and other assets, including real estate and factories.

Foreigners already own half of the U.S. government’s publicly traded debt. As of January, some $2.19 trillion in Treasury securities were in the hands of central banks, including China and Japan, and private investors abroad.

At the end of 2004, the total foreign direct investment in this country – actual factories, office buildings and other tangible assets as opposed to stocks and bonds _ came to $1.53 trillion, 8.2 percent more than in 2003.

That investment shows up in all of the 50 states.

In Oakland, Maine, it’s a customer service center for T-Mobile USA Inc., which is a subsidiary of German-based Deutsche Telekom. In Glendale, Calif., it’s the U.S. headquarters for Nestle, the Swiss-based food and beverage company.

Arab investment has gotten the most scrutiny of late because of the now-withdrawn bid by a Dubai-based company to buy operations at six major U.S. ports. But statistics show that Arab investments represent only a fraction of the total direct investment in the U.S. by foreigners.

European nations accounted for $977 billion, or two-thirds, of the $1.53 trillion of foreign direct investment, according to figures compiled by the Commerce Department.

By contrast, Arab countries in the Middle East accounted for $9.3 billion, led by $4.7 billion in investment from Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates was second among Middle East Arab countries with $1.8 billion in investments, according to the data.

DP World of Dubai said last week it intends to sell its U.S. operations to an American-owned company. But that has not stopped some members of Congress from seeking to overhaul the way such deals are reviewed by a secretive government panel.

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