China could target oil firms, telcos, banks in price probe

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - China's powerful price regulator could target the petroleum, telecommunications, banking and auto sectors next in its investigations into violations of the country's anti-trust laws, state media quoted a senior official as saying.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) would look at industries that have an impact on the lives of ordinary Chinese, China Central Television (CCTV) quoted Mr Xu Kunlin, head of the anti-monopoly bureau at the NDRC, as saying on one of its programmes.

The NDRC has launched nearly 20 pricing-related probes into domestic and foreign firms in the last three years, according to official media reports and research published by law firms.

But the scope of its investigations have gathered pace in recent months and coincide with criticism in official media at the price of goods ranging from milk powder to luxury cars.

Last week the NDRC fined six milk powder firms for anti-competitive behaviour. It is also investigating 60 foreign and local pharmaceutical companies over pricing and costs.

Companies in the petroleum, telecommunications, banking and auto sectors were on the NDRC's radar for future investigations, CCTV's official blog quoted Mr Xu as saying.

He gave a hypothetical example, saying that if banks fixed deposit or lending rates if and when China liberalised its interest rate regime, such behaviour could prompt an investigation.

CCTV gave no other details and NDRC officials could not be reached for comment.

China has been taking incremental steps towards liberalising interest rates. Last month, the central bank removed controls on bank lending rates, giving commercial banks the freedom to compete for borrowers.

The China Automobile Dealers Association told Reuters earlier this week that its officials were collecting data on the price of all foreign cars sold in the country for the NDRC.

The State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), a regulator in charge of market supervision, kicked off a separate three-month investigation into bribery in the pharmaceutical and medical services sector on Thursday.