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China Widens Dairy Investigation With Tetra Pak Under Probe

July 8, 2013

Chinese agencies also are investigating 23 cases of possible monopoly violations by overseas companies.

China is widening its investigations into the food and dairy industry as it probes Switzerland-based food processing and packaging company Tetra Pak Group for possible abuse of market dominance.

The State Administration for Industry & Commerce has organized more than 20 of its regional agencies to investigate the allegations, Zhang Mao, head of the market watchdog, said at a forum today. It’s also investigating 23 cases of possible monopoly violations, according to the transcript of his speech on the regulator’s website.

The investigation into Tetra Pak is the latest sign of increased scrutiny into the operations of overseas companies in the world’s second-largest economy. Nestle SA and Danone’s infant-nutrition units are cutting some prices after the People’s Daily reported July 2 that the government started probing possible price-fixing by global producers of infant formula. Drugmakers including GlaxoSmithKline Plc are being probed separately.

Tetra Pak was asked by the Chinese authorities to provide information about its business in China a few weeks ago, said spokesman Christopher Huntley. "We have no information about a formal investigation." The information requested was "very broad" and the company is cooperating, he said, declining to disclose further details.

Tetra Pak, which entered the Chinese market in 1972, processes food including dairy and milk products as well as ice cream, according to its website. It has a research and development center in Shanghai and factories in cities including Beijing, Foshan, Kunshan and Hohhot.

Company Apologies

Telephone calls to the watchdog’s press office in Beijing weren’t answered.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who took office in March, has pledged to root out consumer abuses. Apple Inc. and Yum! Brands Inc. are among foreign companies that have had to apologize this year to consumers in China after authorities began investigating their operations.

"You always got to contend with the fact that anything in China is always political," said Matthew Crabbe, Asia director of research at industry analyst Mintel Group Ltd. Foreign companies "have to play the political game" and protect their brand image as China is a "very important market for companies. They are going to do what they have to for market share in China."

Pricing Probe

China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the top planning agency, started an investigation into the pricing of infant formula sold by Nestle’s Wyeth and other foreign companies including Mead Johnson Nutrition Co., Abbott Laboratories and Dutch producer Royal FrieslandCampina NV, the official People’s Daily said this week.

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