Michael Martina Beijing
China’s pricing regulator was investigating industries in which excessive profits were being made, such as the spectacles sector, a competition official said yesterday, adding that authorities had not opened a probe into car makers.
Lawyers in China say client inquiries related to a five-year-old anti-monopoly law have jumped in recent months in the wake of a spate of competition investigations across sectors ranging from pharmaceuticals to milk powder and jewellery.
Last month a Chinese automotive association said it was collecting data on the price of all foreign cars sold in the country for the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), which regulates prices.
But Xu Kunlin, the head of the NDRC’s anti-monopoly bureau, told a panel at a forum in Beijing that the agency had “not selected the auto industry for investigation”.
“We hope that our investigations will bring prices down in industries in which they are high,” Xu said.
He singled out the cost of frames and lenses for glasses, which he said were “many times higher” in China, without giving specific examples or naming companies.
Xu did not respond when the panel moderator, Huang Yong, noted that Xu’s comments did not mean the NDRC would not investigate the motor industry in the future.
The official Xinhua news agency has said foreign car firms were reaping exorbitant profits selling imported luxury cars in China and should face an investigation.
China has become a key market for luxury car makers, with 2.7 million expected to be sold each year by 2020, overtaking the US as the world’s leader in the segment.
Xu defended his agency’s practices against what some lawyers have said was the targeting of foreign firms, saying state-owned enterprises, Chinese and foreign companies had all complained that they were being singled out by the agency.
The NDRC has launched nearly 20 pricing-related probes into domestic and foreign firms in the past three years, according to official media reports and research published by law firms.
Some experts argue foreign companies are more vulnerable to regulators because they lack domestic political backing.
Reuters reported on August 21 that an NDRC official put pressure on about 30 foreign firms at a meeting in late July to confess to any anti-competitive violations and warned them against hiring external lawyers to fight accusations from regulators.– Reuters