Latest US China-Bashing: Hog Farm Protectionism

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 7/13/2013 03:48:00 PM
I am a true connoisseur of all sorts of protectionism: the more obscure and inscrutable the justifications for it, the more I savour the hypocrisy. Free trade? Get outta here! In recent years, the United States has served up some of the more ridiculous examples of what is, at heart, unvarnished racism on the part of American lawmakers. (You don't see them block European foreign investment on a regular basis, do you?) When the purchase of minor American producer Unocal by Chinese SOE CNOOC, "national security" concerns were raised. There was also the matter of 3Leaf, a minor player in the server market, being subject to Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS) harassment over interest from Huawei. Nevermind that 3Leaf was a marginal player in the server market in the same way UNOCAL was in energy, but rampant and rather irrational fears of Chinese snooping on US data were in play. After the Snowden incident, Xinhua correctly described the utter hypocrisy behind American data security concerns with the US being "the biggest villain of our age" in cyber-snooping activities.
 More recently, we have had the latest twist on American "national security" concerns regarding the Chinese. It doesn't really matter that the suitor in question isn't an SOE; I guess Yanks believe once you've seen one of them you've seen them all. I am thus wryly amused by this latest form of "hog farm protectionism" as China's Shuanghui International attempts to purchase America's Smithfield International.
A Senate committee on Wednesday criticized a major merger of U.S. and Chinese agricultural interests, saying the combination of two major pork producers could have negative impacts on U.S. food and economic security.

The hearing before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry was exploring the impact of a proposed merger between Smithfield Foods, the leading pork producer in the U.S., and Shuanghui, China’s largest pork producer.

The $7.1 billion acquisition is the largest purchase of a U.S. company by Chinese business interests. The merger sparked skepticism from committee members who were concerned about Smithfield’s ability to maintain compliance with food-safety standards expected in the U.S.

Read more here:
A former US trade official, Robert Herztein, added fuel to the fire by tortuously describing this "hog farm protectionism" in terms of the Chinese unleashing tainted food products on an unaware American public:
It could, of course, be a stretch to conclude that Chinese ownership of Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer, might impair U.S. national security...Reports of egregious food adulteration in China suggest a culture where companies have little concern for safety and health standards.
While there has been an episode of a supplier providing tainted meat to Shuanghui, it has since increased its monitoring of its supply chain. (I invite Shuanghui's critics to find the smoking gun that indicates Shuanghui promoted the use of chemicals hazardous to human health instead of implying this to be the case. Moreover, Herzstein conveniently ignores that Smithfield has been scaling back use of the controversial drug ractopamine in order to meet Chinese demands to be free of this feed additive. In the last year, Smithfield has lessened ractopamine usage in half--presumably in expectation of a China deal: 
This March, China began requiring third-party verification that U.S. pork products were ractopamine-free. Russia, the sixth-largest buyer of U.S. pork, had blocked imports of U.S. meat using ractopamine weeks before...The measures highlighted a sharp contrast with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which approved ractopamine for use in commercially-raised swine in 1999 and stands by that decision, saying its safety has been corroborated four times. It is used in more than half of the U.S. hog herd, analysts estimate.

By early May [2013], Smithfield already had moved two of its plants - including Tar Heel, North Carolina, the world's largest pork-processing facility - off ractopamine. When the third plant converts on June 1, "over 50 percent of our operations will have no ractopamine as part of their feed rations," CEO Pope said.
Shuanghui also has its own rather self-serving FAQ, but nevermind: I am honestly at a loss as to why Americans always ascribe the worst to the Chinese. Given such intense scrutiny, how likely would it be that they would (a) divert fuel supplies meant for the US to China, (b) build routers to deliberately spy on American communications or (c) risk a mass poisoning of American pork consumers? It makes no sense. Not only would they lock out other Chinese firms from investing in the US for years and years, but the ferocious backlash would ensure that their days of doing business Stateside are numbered. Forced divestiture or a massive public boycott; the result would be the same.

As a more pragmatic, less ideological sort, here's my suggestion to the Yanks: Why don't you let the Chinese invest and see what happens instead of pigging out on racist protectionism all the time? I truly doubt that egregious violations of public safety on a massive scale would occur, Snowden-style. For aforementioned reasons, getting rid of "national security" transgressors would be so very easy and set an example besides.