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Overseas unit of China's cigarette monopoly files for Hong Kong IPO

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By Julia Fioretti

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China Tobacco International, the overseas subsidiary of China's state-owned tobacco monopoly and the world's largest tobacco producer by volume, has filed for a Hong Kong initial public offering (IPO).

The listing will raise around $100 million (£78.6 million) for the unit, which accounts for a fraction of parent China National Tobacco Corp's overall business, said a person familiar with the matter, who declined to be identified as the information was private.

The unit mainly buys tobacco leaf products from countries such as Brazil and the United States and sells them to Chinese manufacturers. It also exclusively operates China's cigarette exports business with sales in duty-free outlets in places such as Thailand and Singapore, its draft prospectus showed.

Its parent, better known as China Tobacco, sells 98 percent of all tobacco consumed in China and booked sales of 1.1 trillion yuan (£126.2 billion) in 2017, accounting for 7 to 11 percent of the country's tax revenue.

The listing comes as authorities try to tighten tobacco regulation in a country of 1.4 billion people where around 300 million smoke. However, progress has been incremental in the face of opposition from China Tobacco, a top national tobacco control officer previously told Reuters.

Tax hikes, public smoking bans and tougher advertising rules contributed to a decline in sales at China Tobacco in 2015 and 2016. Sales have risen only slightly over the past two years.

China Tobacco International said it plans to use the IPO proceeds to buy tobacco product operating entities, cigarette brands or tobacco product brands. It also aims to expand sales channels in markets such as Southeast Asia through new marketing campaigns.

The prospectus showed the unit booked profit of HK$222.3 million (£22.3 million) in January-September, on revenue that fell 21 percent from the same period a year prior to HK$5.1 billion.

The firm did not immediately respond to telephoned requests for comment.

CICC and China Merchants Securities are joint sponsors for the IPO.

(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Additional reporting by Julie Zhu in HONG KONG and Adam Jourdan in SHANGHAI; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

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