A Mercedes-Benz showroom in Beijing. China's anti-monopoly regulator has found the German car maker guilty of charging excessive prices for parts. At least seven foreign car makers have been pressured into lowering vehicle prices in the country as the government clamps down on price fixing. Photo: AP

Bloomberg Beijing

CHINA’S antitrust regulator has fined Japanese bearing makers NSK and NTN a combined ¥4.8 billion (R496 million) for violating rules amid a probe into industry pricing practices.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) had penalised NSK ¥2.9bn and NTN ¥1.9bn, the two companies said in statements to the Tokyo Stock Exchange yesterday.

China is stepping up an anti-monopoly investigation that has so far pressured at least seven foreign car makers into cutting prices.

The NDRC, which has primary responsibility for oversight of pricing, said earlier this month that it had completed an investigation into 12 Japanese companies and would penalise the violators.

“China has been co-operating globally in terms of international issues like cartels,” said Toshiaki Yamaguchi, an Osaka lawyer specialising in corporate compliance.

“This should be a wake-up call for companies not to engage in suspicious behaviour that may be regarded as a cartel,” Yamaguchi added.

China’s anti-monopoly law allows the government to impose fines of as much as 10 percent of a company’s annual revenue. Companies that co-operate can get lighter penalties.

NSK said yesterday that it would take “comprehensive measures” to ensure it strictly complied with the laws and would disclose any revision to its full-year forecast as a result of the fine.

The fine was for violations in the period from 2000 to June 2011, company spokesman Taketoshi Tanoue said, without being more specific about the offences. The company was fined by Japan’s antitrust authority last year for fixing the prices of bearings.

NSK’s stock rose 0.1 percent to ¥1 384 at the close of trading in Tokyo yesterday. NTN’s shares were unchanged at ¥443.

Besides component manufacturers, the NDRC investigation has looked at pricing practices on vehicles, after-sales maintenance and spare parts. Volkswagen’s Audi, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz and Toyota Motor are among car makers that have announced price cuts since last month after the probe into more than a dozen manufacturers.

Tensions in China’s foreign investor community have escalated with the probes.

The EU Chamber of Commerce in China, which has about 1 800 members in the country, said in a statement last week that Chinese investigators were picking on foreign companies, pressuring them into accepting punishments and depriving them of full hearings.

The American Chamber of Commerce in China called for dialogue between US and Chinese officials about rising concerns among its members.

“We are absolutely looking very closely at all that’s going on in the investment environment in China,” Greg Gilligan, the chairman of the group, said in an interview in Beijing yesterday. “There is increased concern among our membership about a number of things that are happening across a number of industries.”

Ministry of commerce spokesman Shen Danyang said on Monday that “there is no xenophobia” behind the investigations. The NDRC has said it was pursuing the investigations to uphold market order and protect consumer interests.