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China's WH Group looks for substitute markets for US pork

Caught in trade war, world's largest producer increases shipments to Japan and South Korea

WH Group, the world's largest pork processor, is shifting its sales strategy in light of the U.S.-China trade war.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- WH Group, the world's top pork company, is looking to ship more American products outside its home market of China as it tries to blunt the impact of the trade war between the world's two largest economies.

Its American fresh meat business tumbled to a $15 million pretax loss in the first six months of 2018, a reversal from a $199 million profit a year earlier, as the two countries imposed tariffs on each other's products. The company plans to tap mainly locally sourced pork for the Chinese market for now, and ramp up shipments of American pork to other markets like Japan, South Korea and Mexico.

"We will increase exports to places other than China," Chairman and CEO Wan Long said Tuesday.

WH Group became the world's largest pork processor after buying U.S.-based Smithfield Foods in 2013. It has since been selling Smithfield products in China, taking advantage of the stable prices and supply volume of American-made products.

But in April, China slapped a 25% tariff on American pork products in retaliation for American duties on Chinese exports. WH Group's stock price has fallen roughly 30% this year on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Still, Wan stressed that the trade war was little cause for concern. The company's total sales grew 5% on the year to $11.17 billion in the first half, with net profit jumping 13% to $557 million.

"Our overall performance, which is centered around China, is stable," he said.

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