(Bloomberg) -- The head of the Washington regulator that’s negotiating with Beijing to stave off the delisting of almost 200 Chinese companies from the American stock market is reiterating the US’s tough stance. 

Public Company Accounting Oversight Board Chair Erica Williams said Thursday that her agency is working to reach an agreement with Chinese authorities. However, she added any accord would just be a first step toward ensuring that PCAOB inspectors can thoroughly review the audit work papers of businesses based in China and Hong Kong. 

“Access to the US capital markets is a privilege, not a right,” Williams said during a virtual event hosted by the Council of Institutional Investors. “The PCAOB will follow US law, and the law is clear that we must have complete access to audit work papers of any firm we choose to inspect or investigate -– no loopholes and no exceptions.”

Williams added that “time is of the essence” for talks. 

Regulators from the two countries have been locked in negotiations for years over granting US auditor watchdogs complete and open access to the work papers of companies, including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and JD.com Inc. An American law signed in 2020 could force those companies off the Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange as soon as 2024, if inspectors from the PCAOB don’t get access. 

The audit-paper inspection requirements for all companies that trade publicly in the US dates back to a 2002 law. Dozens of other countries have permitted the audit inspections, letting American officials interview local accountants and scrutinize the documentation underlying their work. 

China and Hong Kong have refused, citing confidentiality laws and national security concerns. 


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