Chinese authorities have imposed multimillion dollar fines on several overseas shipping companies accusing them of price fixing. This is the latest case involving Beijing's scrutiny of foreign firms.
China on Monday fined seven major Korean, Japanese and European shipping companies that transport vehicles for automakers a combined 407 million yuan (around $65 million, 59 million euros) on price-fixing charges.
Investigators found Europe's Wallenius Wilhelmsen, South Korea's EUKOR, Japan's Mitsui O.S.K. Lines and other shippers improperly coordinated bids and routes to keep prices high, said China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) - the top state planner and one of several agencies tasked with oversight of monopoly cases.
An eighth shipper, Japan's NYK Line, was also implicated but escaped a fine by cooperating with the authorities, the NDRC said. The biggest penalty of 284 million yuan (about $45 million) was imposed on EUKOR Car Carriers Inc.
The commission accused the companies of mutually agreeing to raise shipping costs and using unfair means to set prices - mainly on routes linking China with North America, South America and Europe.
The latest penalties target "roll-on, roll-off" shippers that move cars, trucks and construction equipment aboard specialized vessels carrying hundreds and sometimes thousands of vehicles.
The NDRC said the companies had already acknowledged responsibility and apologized.
The case follows sweeping investigations into foreign firms in China in sectors ranging from technology to autos.
Business groups say the secretive and abrupt way investigations are conducted is alienating foreign companies. But regulators deny foreign companies are treated unfairly.
Regulators have investigated or penalized auto makers, dairies and technology suppliers under China's 2008 anti-monopoly law in an effort to force down prices Chinese consumers complain are too high.
In August last year, the Chinese government levied a combined 1.24 billion yuan fine on 12 Japanese auto parts firms for price-fixing.
And in perhaps the biggest anti-monopoly penalty imposed by Chinese authorities to date, US chipmaker Qualcomm was fined 6 billion yuan ($975 million) in February on charges it abused its dominance in wireless technology to charge "unfairly high" licensing fees.
sri/hg (AFP, AP)