China to Crack The Whip on Price Fixing of Commodities
Vendors arrange pork at a food market in Wuyi county, Zhejiang province, in September 2013 (Reuters).

China's top economic planning agency said it would crack down on price manipulation in agricultural products in a bid to shield low-income citizens.

The latest move widens the net on anti-competitive behaviour that has targeted global firms operating in China in 2013.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said on 15 December it would look into the prices of pork, fertiliser, cotton, vegetable oil and sugar - all commodities with a lopsided impact on low-income people in the world's most populous nation.

The pricing regulator also said it would strengthen price subsidy mechanisms to mitigate the impact of rising product prices on poor people, reported Reuters.

China's leaders are more interested in reforming the world's second largest economy than stimulating it. Beijing wants to guide the economy away from debt-driven investments in infrastructure and property, and towards a more sustainable path.

Regulators have in their sights industries where practices could lead to "unreasonably" high consumer prices.

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

Last week, Chinese state media quoted NDRC official Xu Kunlin as saying that the agency had "substantial evidence" against chipmaker Qualcomm in an antitrust investigation.

Xu also said the agency would augment its price-fixing enforcement teams by about 170 people, to intensify efforts to curb antitrust violations in the major industries.

Qualcomm Probe

Qualcomm, the world's biggest maker of cellphone chips, revealed in November that it was under investigation by Chinese regulators for potential violation of an anti-monopoly law in China, the world's largest mobile phone market.

The US chipmaker said on 25 November it was not aware of any antitrust violations but would cooperate in the NDRC probe.

China Infant Formula

In August, the NDRC issued record fines of 670m yuan to six infant formula companies following an anti-trust investigation.

The NDRC fined Biostime, Mead Johnson, Danone's Dumex, Abbott, Friesland and Fonterra.

In the probe into these companies initiated in March, the NDRC found the formula producers set minimum resale prices for distributors. The distributors who sold their products at a price lower than the fixed minimum price were punished.