China fines Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, other global shippers on price-fixing charges

AP

China on Monday fined three Japanese and four other foreign shipping companies that transport vehicles for automakers a total of $65 million for price-fixing in its latest effort to end anti-competitive practices in the auto industry.

Investigators found Japan’s Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, K Line and Eastern Car Liner, Europe’s Wallenius Wilhelmsen, South Korea’s EUKOR, and other shippers improperly coordinated bids and routes to keep prices high, the Cabinet’s planning agency said.

Regulators have investigated or penalized automakers, dairies and technology suppliers under China’s 2008 anti-monopoly law in an effort to force down prices, which many 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 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 (Japan) Ltd. and Eastern Car Liner Ltd. and Chile’s CSAV and CCNI.

An eighth shipper, Nippon Yusen K.K., known as NYK Line, was found to have colluded but was spared a fine, the NDRC said. The company said in a separate statement that was because 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 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.