China to crack down on price fixing of agricultural products


SHANGHAI, Dec 16 (Reuters) - China's pricing regulator said it will crack down on price manipulation in agricultural products to help protect low-income citizens, widening its probe on antitrust violations that has targeted some well-known global firms.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said in a statement published on its website on Sunday it will look into pork, fertilizer, cotton, vegetable oil and sugar -- all commodities with a disproportionate impact on low-income people in China.

The agency would strengthen price subsidy mechanisms to ameliorate the impact of rising product prices on poor people, it added.

China is trying to restructure the economy so that growth is driven by consumption and antitrust agencies have said they will target industries where practices could lead to "unreasonably" high consumer prices.

The NDRC has been stepping up its anti-monopoly enforcement over the past several months. The NDRC handed down record fines in August to six milk powder companies, including Mead Johnson Nutrition Co and Danone, and has also punished domestic jewellers for antitrust violations.

The regulator has said it would focus on six sectors -- aerospace, chemicals, automobiles, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and home appliances.

Last week, state media quoted NDRC official Xu Kunlin saying the agency has "substantial evidence" against chipmaker Qualcomm Inc in an antitrust probe.

Xu was also quoted as saying the agency would add at least 170 people to its price-fixing enforcement teams as it redoubles efforts to tame anti-competitive behaviour in major industries, including the automotive sector.

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