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Smithfield success begs question how many win-win deals have been forestalled: China Daily editorial

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-03-15 20:00

A shopping cart is seen in a supermarket in Manhattan, New York City, June 10, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the United States, has turned losses into gains over the past decade after it was purchased by a Chinese company. Yet even the fast development of the Virginia company has not spared its CEO Shane Smith the trouble of spending time in Washington explaining to US government officials and lawmakers that the company's cooperation with its Chinese parent company WH Group is no different from that between other US companies and their investors.

As a story on the company published in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday indicates, the company's sales revenue has risen from $13 billion to nearly $18 billion, and it now employs 3,000 more US workers than a decade ago to increase its processing capacity.

But although, as Smith stressed in 2021, the company is "as American today as we were in 2013", the circumstances now are drastically different from how they were 10 years ago thanks to the anti-China sentiment in Washington.

Disregarding such success stories, China-bashing politicians such as Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton claim that China is destroying US food and agriculture industries by failing the leading players in the field. Some have gone even further by spreading the rumor that although Smithfield Foods raises pigs in the US, the pork is processed in China and the meat products shipped back to the US market, hinting that the arrangement provides China with leverage through which it can tamper with the production process, making it a substantial threat to food safety and public health in the US.

That paranoid thinking originates from the way the US has weaponized the industries it controls. The reality, as Smith informed the WSJ, is that the whole processing of Smithfield's meat products occurs on US soil. And despite the US' penchant for weaponizing economic issues, China still welcomes US companies, institutes and researchers to its market, universities and labs, as well as to take part in third-party cooperation projects overseas.

The Chinese company purchased Smithfield Foods for $4.7 billion in 2013. Although the process was full of twists and turns, the US foreign investment security watchdog departments finally approved the deal. The company has thrived since then. Contrary to claims otherwise, the involvement of a Chinese company in the US supply chain has only brought win-win results. Yet over the past five years, at least 678 Chinese companies have been blacklisted by the US government across a wide range of sectors, along with a large number of institutes, organizations and individuals, on groundless national security charges.

Given the sensitivity of the food industry to food safety and the strategic importance of agriculture to food security, it would have been almost impossible for the deal to be approved back then if the anti-China atmosphere had been so intense in the US as it is today. The question is how many such win-win deals have been stifled in the cradle by the US government and legislature because of that prejudice.

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