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Coke confirms its faith in the nation with a further US$2b

Coca-Cola Co is planning to invest US$2 billion in China over the next three years in new plants, distribution infrastructure, marketing and research.

This is in addition to the US$2.4 billion the United States beverage giant has committed to invest in China Huiyuan Juice Group Ltd.

"Our commitment and confidence in China never wavers," Coca-Cola President and CEO Muhtar Kent said in Shanghai yesterday where the company opened a technology center.

The US$90-million research facility will develop new products to suit local tastes, he said. Coca-Cola has invested US$1.6 billion in China since 1979.

The news comes about two weeks before the Chinese government is expected to give a decision on Coca-Cola's acquisition of Huiyuan. The Ministry of Commerce is reviewing the proposed takeover, which was announced in September last year, under China's anti-monopoly law. Huiyuan controls more than 40 percent of China's pure juice market.

Coca-Cola is in regular contact with the government but had no further information regarding the approval progress, a spokesman said.

Coca-Cola is facing opposition from its own shareholders on the deal, which looks increasingly expensive as global asset values tumble.

But Hong Kong-listed Huiyuan said it was not aware of any changes in Coca-Cola's bid and said the US company would be obliged to make the offer.

While the recession has hurt spending in the US, beverage giants are betting demand from China's 1.3 billion consumers will continue to grow.

Coca-Cola's sales by volume rose 19 percent last year in China and declined by 1 percent in North America. In the fourth quarter, they jumped 29 percent in China.


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