China fines baby formula firms for price-fixing

WEB_PHOTO_MEADJOHNSONBABYFORMULA_07082013

Mead Johnson baby formula is pictured on shelves at a supermarket in Beijing on August 7, 2013.

Mead Johnson baby formula is pictured on shelves at a supermarket in Beijing on August 7, 2013.

WEB_PHOTO_MEADJOHNSONBABYFORMULA_07082013

Mead Johnson baby formula is pictured on shelves at a supermarket in Beijing on August 7, 2013.

Mead Johnson baby formula is pictured on shelves at a supermarket in Beijing on August 7, 2013.

BEIJING - China has fined six mostly foreign baby formula companies a total of $108-million for price-fixing, the official Xinhua news agency reported Wednesday.

The firms fined were Mead Johnson and Abbott from the US, Dumex, a subsidiary of France&39;s Danone, Friesland of the Netherlands, New Zealand giant Fonterra -- at the centre of a health scare this week -- and China&39;s Biostime, Xinhua said, citing the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

In a corporate statement, Mead Johnson said it had been handed a penalty of 204-million yuan ($33-million).

Biostime said in a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange that it had been given a 163-million yuan fine.

Fonterra, which has had to recall products in several countries this week over a botulism scare, was fined 4.5-million yuan, it said.

It cooperated fully with Chinese authorities and accepted their decision, it said.

"The investigation leaves us with a much clearer understanding of expectations around implementing pricing policies which is useful as we progress our future business plans," Fonterra&39;s president for Greater China and India, Kelvin Wickham, said in a statement.

He added that Fonterra&39;s fine was "in the lowest range" of the penalties handed out.

The NDRC, China&39;s top economic planner, launched the investigation into high prices it said resulted from a monopoly-like situation, mostly targeting overseas firms. Several of them announced price cuts last month.

Xinhua said that three companies -- Wyeth, which is owned by Swiss giant Nestle, Japan&39;s Meiji, and Chinese firm Beingmate -- had been exempted from punishment in the inquiry.

The NDRC said they provided important evidence and carried out active self-rectification, it added.