ST. LOUIS, Missouri, March 7 (Reuters) - Smithfield Foods Inc SFD.N will send a delegation of company officials and outside consultants to China in 30 days to look at potential business opportunities, the company's chief executive said on Friday.
In the past Smithfield, the largest U.S. hog and pork producer, showed little interest in China other than to ship it meat.
But CEO Larry Pope said "we are looking very seriously" at China after a recent trip to the world's most populous nation.
"Up to this point, we held a position we weren't going to do much in China. After having spent some time there, it was just a surface view for 10 days, I'm sending a high-level senior delegation very soon to China -- in the next 30 days -- to spend several months," Pope told reporters at the National Pork Forum in Saint Louis, Missouri.
During the next three to five months, Smithfield will do a detailed analysis of business in China. Several consulting firms, both from the U.S. and China, will work with Smithfield during the visit.
The Chinese government is very supportive of business and it wants to help industry, Pope said.
"We haven't made any decisions yet, but the fact of the matter is it's a growing protein environment. They like our product and we would be fools not to look at it," Pope said.
Earlier this week, Smithfield announced that it agreed to sell its beef business, including beef processing plants and cattle feeding operations, to JBS S.A., (JBSS3.SA) a Brazilian meat company.
On Friday, Pope told reporters the deal could close as early as in a few months, depending on government approval.
"I think it could be very quickly, from a couple of months to six or seven months," he said. (Reporting by Jerry Bieszk; Editing by Marguerita Choy)