US senators raise Smithfield concerns

MEAT MATTERS::Two top senators said a Chinese company’s plan to buy the US pork processing company could be a threat to national security and food safety


Sun, Jun 23, 2013 - Page 13

More US senators on Friday raised concerns about a Chinese company’s plan to buy US pork company Smithfield Foods Inc, particularly in light of restrictions that China continues to place on imports of US meat.

“This review must be thorough and take into account the full range of national security interests,” the top Democrat and Republican on the US Senate Finance Committee said in a letter to US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and US Trade Representative Michael Froman.

“In particular, we urge that due consideration be given to the impact of the transaction on food safety in the United States,” added Senators Max Baucus, a Democrat and the committee’s chairman, and Orrin Hatch, a Republican.

That echoed a demand made on Thursday by 15 of the 20 members of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Chinese meat company Shuanghui International (雙匯國際) hopes to buy Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer and processor, for US$4.7 billion in what would be the biggest takeover of a US company by a Chinese firm.

The companies, out of what lawyers said was “an abundance of caution,” filed the proposed deal with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews foreign investment for any potential threat to national security.

Many CFIUS experts believe it is unlikely the Obama administration will decide that Chinese investment in the US food sector is a national security threat.

“I think the Chinese will bring home the bacon,” said Timothy Keeler, a former US Treasury and trade official who now advises companies with deals that go before CFIUS.

In a statement on Thursday, Smithfield said it welcomed a full review of the deal and would continue to cooperate with the administration and the US Congress in that effort.

“We believe the proposed combination does not present any national security concerns, is good for US farmers and agriculture, and will advance US-China relations,” a spokeswoman for Smithfield said.

Baucus and Hatch said the proposed sale threw a spotlight on longtime Chinese restrictions on US meat and urged the Obama administration to aggressively push back on those measures.

“The purchase of Smithfield — the largest pork producer in the world — is difficult to square with China’s restrictive policies that effectively ban US pork,” the senators said.

China currently bans imports of pork containing any residue of ractopamine, a feed additive used widely in the US with backing from the Codex Alimentarius, the international food safety standards body.

It also blocks imports of almost all US beef because of mad cow disease concerns, despite a finding by the World Animal Health Organization that US beef is safe.

“As a result, while Chinese meat producers are free to bid on US companies accounting for a significant share of US pork production, our producers remain shut out of the important Chinese market,” the senators said.