* European business lobby says probes unfairly target
* Antitrust law suffers from unclear guidelines and
* Market access is the top concern for European business in
By Michael Martina
BEIJING, Sept 5 Foreign pharmaceutical firms in
China have been unfairly targeted by a string of investigations
into bribery and price-fixing despite generally strong legal
compliance, a European Union business lobby said on Thursday.
A series of corruption and antitrust probes in recent months
by Chinese authorities have left foreign firms jumpy as they try
to get a handle on what has quickly become one of the most
salient risks of doing business in China.
The biggest foreign firm in the spotlight is British
drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline PLC, which Chinese police have
accused of funnelling up to 3 billion yuan ($489.92 million) to
travel agencies to facilitate bribes to doctors to boost the
sale of its medicines. The company has said some of its senior
Chinese executives appear to have broken the law.
Bruno Gensburger, the chair of the European Union Chamber of
Commerce in China's pharmaceutical working group, said the
foreign companies that have been investigated all have global
standard operating procedures (SOPs) and are "at large" very
responsible in their China practices.
"What I feel is a little bit unfair is that the foreign
companies which are most serious about SOPs have been the most
investigated and the most discriminated. To my
knowledge today, no Chinese company has been investigated,"
Gensburger told reporters at a briefing on the Chamber's annual
"We all want to work in a very clean environment. The
question we ask today is if this campaign is aimed just to
frighten some companies or create a special climate, I don't
think it will solve anything," Gensburger said, adding that all
of the drugmakers have fully cooperated with authorities.
The Chamber's president, Davide Cucino, said European
companies would be satisfied if the cases are handled according
to law and if there is a balanced focus on corruption within
domestic firms in the Chinese press.
"We do not have to distance ourselves from the fact that
there have been cases of corruption. European companies all have
the interest that the anti-corruption crackdown goes on," Cucino
Health Ministry officials are investigating drugmaker Sanofi
SA over bribery allegations. Chinese authorities have
also visited sites operated by Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk A/S
, Danish firm H Lundbeck A/S, Britain's
AstraZeneca Plc, U.S. firm Eli Lilly & Co and
Belgium's UCB SA.
The investigations also underline the high prices in the
pharmaceutical industry, as the government seeks to make
healthcare access universal and faces an estimated $1 trillion
healthcare bill by 2020.
Many Chinese prefer foreign brands, which often come at a
premium, over local drugs because of the widespread circulation
of fake medicine.
"THE STATE MUST STEP BACK"
Cucino said the lobby was worried about how China's
antitrust regulators were using a 2008 anti-monopoly law, which
some fear has been directed at multinationals.
"We believe that the law is there but a lot of guidelines
... on how to implement it are still not there, or at least are
very unclear," he added.
Official media have said the probes are part of efforts to
toughen enforcement of the law and are not just targeting at
In its paper, the Chamber said the government was making
ongoing efforts to prop up state-owned enterprises at the
expense of foreign companies.
Beijing's view on market access is "fundamentally
anachronistic" the Chamber's paper said, noting that China need
not protect its companies because it has demonstrated that they
can compete with multinationals in all sectors.
"We believe that the state must step back," Cucino said,
warning there could be implications for Chinese firms in Europe.
When asked about the Chamber's comments, Foreign Ministry
spokesman Hong Lei said China was committed to improving the
investment environment for foreign companies.
"At the same time we hope that relevant companies respect
China's rules and laws while operating in the country," he told