Committee paves way for Chinese takeover of Smithfield Farms

The deal, subject to shareholder approval, would be the largest Chinese acquisition of a US company

Farmland pork products on sale at a supermarket in Pico Rivera, Calif. Farmland is owned by Smithfield Foods Inc, the biggest pork producer in the world.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A U.S. executive branch committee Friday approved Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd.'s proposed $4.7 billion acquisition of Smithfield Farms, clearing the way for what would be the biggest purchase of a U.S. company by a Chinese firm to date.

The deal still needs shareholder approval at a special meeting scheduled for Sept. 24. Shuanghui and Smithfield expect the transaction to close shortly after that meeting.

Experts in Washington and on Wall Street had expected the deal to get the nod from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an inter-agency executive branch panel that examines foreign investment for potential threats to national security.

They also do not expect a move by a major investor to block the deal.

The U.S. company, which is based in Smithfield, Va., is the world's largest pork producer and processor. Its sale to Shuanghui comes at a time of serious food safety problems in China, some of which have involved Shuanghui, which owns food and logistics enterprises and is the largest shareholder of China's biggest meat processor.

Some U.S. lawmakers question the deal, citing food safety concerns as well as questions about the government review process of foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies.

Smithfield has said that the buyout and China's growing demand for pork will be a boon for U.S.  agriculture and an opportunity to export to new markets company brands such as Smithfield, Armour and Farmland.

As international interest in U.S. companies has risen dramatically in recent years, CFIUS reviews have increased in number. Since 2007, CFIUS reviews of deals involving Chinese firms have tripled, and reviews of Japanese firms have increased sevenfold.

Although Congress cannot approve or block deals, lawmakers can force companies to abandon their merger plans. They did so in 2005 when China's CNOOC Ltd. made an unsuccessful bid to buy U.S.-based Unocal for $18 billion.

Some experts compared the Shuanghui-Smithfield combination, which would marry two of the world's largest pork producers, to the 2012 takeover of AMC Theaters by China's Dalian Wanda Group for $2.6 billion. That transaction was allowed to proceed when the CFIUS determined the deal posed no threat to national security.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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