China fines seven global shippers on price-fixing charges

Beijing, December 28

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

Investigators found Europe’s Wallenius Wilhelmsen, South Korea’s EUKOR, Japan’s Mitsui OSK Lines and other shippers improperly coordinated 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 penalised 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 specialised 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 (NDRC) 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 was imposed on EUKOR Car Carriers Inc, according to the NDRC. Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, a Swedish-Norwegian company, was fined 45 million yuan.

Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd was fined 38 million yuan. Other firms penalised 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, as it cooperated 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 biggest anti-monopoly penalty to date, US chipmaker Qualcomm Inc was fined six billion yuan in February on charges it abused its dominance in wireless technology.