China fines major foreign shipping lines $65M on price-fixing charges

BEIJING -- China fined seven foreign shipping companies that carry vehicles for automakers a total of $65 million on price-fixing charges Monday in its latest effort to end anti-competitive behaviour in the auto industry.

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Investigators found Europe's Wallenius Wilhelmsen, South Korea's EUKOR, Japan's Mitsui O.S.K. Lines and other shippers improperly co-ordinated bids and routes to keep prices high, the Cabinet's planning agency said. An eighth shipper, Japan's NYK, was found to have colluded but was spared a fine.

Regulators have investigated or penalized automakers, dairies and technology suppliers under China's 2008 anti-monopoly law in an effort to force down prices Chinese consumers complain are too high.

Business groups say the secretive and abrupt way investigations are conducted is alienating foreign companies. Regulators deny foreign companies are treated unfairly.

The latest penalties target "roll-on, roll-off" shippers that move cars, trucks and construction equipment aboard specialized vessels that carry hundreds and sometimes thousands of vehicles.

Representatives of the companies met over a period of more than four years to share information and make deals to avoid competition, the National Development and Reform Commission said. It said the collusion covered routes linking China with Europe, North America and Latin America, and involved multiple auto brands.

The biggest penalty of 284 million yuan ($45 million) was imposed on EUKOR Car Carriers Inc., according to the National Development and Reform Commission. Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, a Swedish-Norwegian company, was fined 45 million yuan ($7.1 million).

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. was fined 38 million yuan ($6 million). Other companies penalized were Japan's K Line and Eastern Car Liner Ltd. and Chile's CSAV and CCNI.

NYK was found to have colluded but was spared a fine, the NDRC said. The company said in a separate statement that was because it co-operated with investigators.

Previously, Chinese regulators fined global auto brands and parts suppliers for enforcing minimum sticker prices and using control over supplies of spares to charge excessively high prices.

In the biggest anti-monopoly penalty to date, the U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. was fined 6 billion yuan ($975 million) in February on charges it abused its dominance in wireless technology to charge "unfairly high" licensing fees.


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