US firms worried about China probes

Major US companies including Starbucks, Apple and McDonald’s, have come under intense scrutiny from China’s consumer watchdogs

It’s not just the Europeans who are feeling targeted by China’s antitrust probes.

A new survey by the US-China Business Council shows that foreign business sentiment in China is deteriorating at a rate of knots.

The group of 220 leading US companies, which includes blue-chip US firms such as Apple, Ford and Wal-Mart, tends to be conservative when issuing statements on business conditions in China.

However, the group’s 2014 member survey shows that 86 per cent of companies expressed concerns, with most citing enforcement as the main worry.


Even the famously tactful EU Chamber said last month that Chinese antitrust investigators were picking on foreign companies, pressuring them into accepting punishments and depriving them of full hearings.

The American Chamber of Commerce in China said 60 per cent of respondents in its survey in August reported feeling foreign businesses were less welcome in the country than before, versus 41 per cent in a late-2013 survey.

This year, major US companies including Starbucks, Apple and McDonald's, as well as the British drugmaker Glaxo SmithKline and New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra have come under intense scrutiny from China's consumer watchdogs.

Helping hand

While the Beijing government says a rash of recent crackdowns on foreign firms are aimed at stopping abuses, critics allege that China is using anti-trust probes and other investigations to protect and bolster domestic firms.

Of those surveyed, a hefty 18 per cent indicated they had been involved in investigations related to competition, including pricing, according to the council.

China says all is fair and square, and denies foreign businesses are being targeted.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China’s anti-monopoly measures are transparent, fair and implemented in accordance with the law.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing