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Business trends

CP Group tycoon says Trump's US ripe for investment

Thai conglomerate mulls several M&As including in non-food sector

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Glyn Davies, left, CP Group Senior Chairman Dhanin Chearavanont, center, and his son and CP Group chief executive Suphachai Chearavanont chatting at the ambassador's residence in Bangkok on Jan. 18. (Photo by Yukako Ono)

BANGKOK -- Thailand's Charoen Pokphand Group, the agribusiness conglomerate led by billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont, is eyeing more trade and investment with the U.S. as it sees there is "good sentiment" for doing business in the country under the administration of President Donald Trump.

There are several merger and acquisition deals that are being considered, said CP Group's U.S. Business Chairman Boonchai Opas-iam-likit, including those in the non-food category. He was talking to reporters on Thursday on the sidelines of an event to promote the launch of products from U.S. frozen entree maker Bellisio Foods in Thailand, held at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Bangkok.

Charoen Pokphand Foods, the listed flagship arm of CP Group, acquired Bellisio Foods in 2016 for $1.075 billion. It was CP Group's first major investment in the U.S.

CP Foods aims to boost Bellisio's exports to Asian markets where consumers are increasingly eating more Western food. To start with, it rolled out four products at Thailand's 10,000 plus 7-Eleven stores.

"CP Group stands ready to support and promote trade and investment between the United States of America and Thailand," said CP Group Chief Executive Suphachai Chearavanont in his remarks at the event. Suphachai, the third son of Dhanin, took over from his father as group CEO a year ago. Repeating his father's words, Suphachai stressed that the group is committed to building a "lifetime partnership" with the U.S.

Dhanin, who is now senior chairman of the group, was also present at the event. In a conversation with Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to Thailand, he suggested that CP could step up its partnership with the U.S. by bringing in more American food into Thailand and also working with U.S. companies with innovative technologies. 

Davies responded by saying he was "impressed" with CP's acquisition of Bellisio and that it was a "win-win" for both Thailand and the U.S. to expand the distribution of American products. "CP has taken the 200-year relationship between the U.S. and Thailand one step further," he said.

While the U.S. had distanced itself from Thailand after the 2014 military coup, the relationship has rapidly been warming since Trump took office. After years of hardly any contact, many high-ranking government officials from Washington visited Bangkok last year including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Trump invited coup leader Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to the White House.

In September, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross visited Thailand and met with large local businesses including CP Group and discussed more investment in the U.S.

"We receive tremendous support from the Trump administration," CP's Boonchai told reporters. "The U.S. is a large market with tremendous spending power," he said. "Now with the good sentiment, increasing confidence of consumers and the tax reform ... CP views that it is good opportunity to increase trade and investment."

Thai companies have been aggressively investing abroad in recent years especially as the population is aging at home and they need to seek new markets. While many are focused on developing neighbors such as Vietnam, Cambodia and China, large companies like CP are also looking beyond Asia to developed Western markets.

Thai Union Group, the largest canned tuna processor in the world, acquired a 25% stake in U.S.-based seafood restaurant chain Red Lobster in 2016. The company also sought to acquire Bumble Bee Foods, the second largest canned tuna company in the U.S., but failed to do so due to regulatory hurdles as it already owns the third largest U.S. canned tuna maker Chicken of the Sea.

CP Group, meanwhile, actively invested in Europe in 2017. It acquired a 33% stake in Polish chicken processer SuperDrob Capital Group for 49.5 million euros and a 95% stake in Germany-based meat supplier Paulsen Food for 12 million euros ($14.7 million). It also purchased all shares in U.K.-based poultry company Westbridge Food Group. 

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