| WASHINGTON, July 9
WASHINGTON, July 9 Chinese plans to buy
America's Smithfield Foods - the world's biggest pork
producer - will face intense scrutiny on Wednesday when U.S.
senators question Smithfield's chief executive about food safety
and foreign ownership.
The proposed $4.7 billion purchase by Shuanghui
International would be the largest acquisition ever of a U.S.
company by a Chinese concern. Experts on the U.S. review process
expect the deal to be approved despite opposition from farmers,
food-safety groups and rural communities.
Smithfield chief executive Larry Pope has vigorously
defended the deal since it was announced in May and said it
would not harm U.S. security or food safety.
"Shuanghui recognizes Smithfield's best-in-class operations,
outstanding food safety practices and 46,000 hard working
employees," Pope said in May. "There will be no impact on how we
do business operationally in America and around the world as a
result of this transaction."
Approval ultimately lies with the Committee on Foreign
Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the interagency panel
headed by the U.S. Treasury that reviews foreign investments for
national security threats.
Senators have raised questions about the company's future
compliance with food safety and biosecurity standards and
safeguarding of intellectual property if the deal goes ahead.
Concerns have also been raised about foreign ownership of the
U.S. food supply.
CFIUS experts largely believe the deal will be approved.
Smithfield would still be subject to U.S. food safety
requirements, and the company has said the merger is driven by
growing pork demand in China, not a strategy to export pork to
the United States.
"Investors should view (the committee hearing) as a
political exercise that is not likely to have a substantive
impact on the transaction itself," Mark McMinimy, an analyst at
Guggenheim Securities, wrote in a research note. "Congressional
hearings have not derailed these kinds of transactions in the
CHINA FOOD SCANDALS
Recent scandals in China have fueled food safety concerns.
Among the problems have been thousands of pig carcasses found
floating down a river and milk tainted with the industrial
chemical melamine that killed six and sickened thousands. In
June, a fire at a chicken-processing plant in northeast China
killed 120 people.
Usha Haley, a professor at West Virginia University who has
researched business in China, opposes the deal and will be one
of the witnesses at Wednesday's hearing.
She wrote in USA Today that Shuanghui has had "outrageous
food-safety violations and a history of food adulteration." She
also said that Shuanghui is highly subsidized by the Chinese
government and the deal would have negative implications for the
stock market and valuations of other food producers.
On Tuesday, a coalition of 17 organizations representing
farmers, rural communities and food safety groups, urged
rejection of the Smithfield deal in a 12-page letter to members
of CFIUS and others, including USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
They fear Shuanghui will seek to export pork to the United
States and said the deal "facilitates risky meat exports from
China." Shuanghui has not expressed an interest in exporting to
the United States.
Smithfield Foods closed at $32.86 on the New York Stock
Exchange on Tuesday, up 0.2 percent.