China's antitrust probes not just aimed at foreign firms - official media

SHANGHAI Tue Aug 27, 2013 3:48am BST

The national flag of China flutters behind a fence of the headquarters of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) in Beijing, in this picture taken July 12, 2013. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The national flag of China flutters behind a fence of the headquarters of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) in Beijing, in this picture taken July 12, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A series of antitrust investigations by Chinese regulators are part of efforts to toughen enforcement of a 2008 anti-monopoly law and are not just directed at foreign firms, the official China Daily reported on Tuesday.

Some foreign executives in China have said recent high-profile probes into the milk powder and pharmaceutical sectors appeared to show foreign companies were being singled out.

Reuters reported last week that an official from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) put pressure on some 30 foreign firms at a meeting in late July to confess to any antitrust violations and warned them against using external lawyers to fight accusations from regulators.

"There is no such thing as specially targeting foreign companies. Our investigations focus on monopolistic conduct, not the entities behind it," the China Daily quoted an unidentified official from the NDRC as saying.

The NDRC, which regulates prices, was investigating other sectors but it was too early to release details because of the complexity of enforcing the anti-monopoly law, the official said.

The China Daily also quoted Huang Yong, deputy head of the expert advisory group at the anti-monopoly committee under China's cabinet as saying enforcement of the anti-monopoly law would become "the new normal".

The NDRC has launched nearly 20 pricing-related probes into domestic and foreign firms in the last three years, according to official media reports and research published by law firms.

Earlier this month, the NDRC handed down record fines to six milk powder firms, including Mead Johnson Nutrition Co and Danone, for anti-competitive behaviour. It is also investigating 60 foreign and local pharmaceutical companies over pricing and costs.

The official Xinhua news agency said in a recent commentary that China had not discriminated against foreign firms. It has also rebuffed speculation the milk powder probe was aimed at boosting domestic brands over foreign rivals.

Xu Kunlin, head of the anti-monopoly bureau at the NDRC, told a China Central Television (CCTV) programme recently that petroleum, telecommunications, banking and the auto sectors could also be investigated for antitrust violations.

The China Automobile Dealers Association told Reuters this month that its officials were collecting data on the price of all foreign cars sold in the country for the NDRC.

(Reporting by Kazunori Takada. Editing by Dean Yates)