By Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top U.S. antitrust enforcer expressed concern on Wednesday about China's enforcement of its antitrust law after Beijing opened a probe into Qualcomm Inc for allegedly abusing its market position.
China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), which is among the agencies that enforce antitrust law, said in February that the U.S. chipmaker was suspected of overcharging and abusing its market position in wireless communication standards. The allegations could mean fines of more than $1 billion.
In Washington, Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez noted media reports that Beijing may decide to prosecute a company based on the royalty payments that it demands to use its patents.
Ramirez did not mention Qualcomm by name but said: "I am seriously concerned by these reports, which suggest an enforcement policy focused on reducing royalty payments for local implementers as a matter of industrial policy, rather than protecting competition and long-run consumer welfare."
In July, a Chinese state-run newspaper said China's NDRC had determined that Qualcomm had a monopoly but did not say whether the regulator had determined that the company had abused this monopoly.
Qualcomm, one of the world's biggest mobile chipmakers, is one of at least 30 foreign firms to come under scrutiny as China seeks to enforce a 2008 anti-monopoly law which some critics say is being used to unfairly target overseas businesses, raising protectionism concerns.
Also in Washington, Joaquin Almunia, the top European antitrust enforcer, warned against criticism of other jurisdictions with different laws.
"I think we need to be careful in assessing how competition enforcement is carried out in different jurisdictions than our own," he said at a press conference when asked about China.
But he said that he had been disappointed that China had not yet joined the International Competition Network, an informal network of competition agencies from 92 jurisdictions, and said that cooperation with China when both Beijing and Brussels were working on the same issue fell short.
"With the Chinese we are still at the starting point of this cooperation," he said.
Companies being investigated in China for antitrust issues include Microsoft Corp and automaker Volkswagen AG <VOWG_p.DE>. This week, the NDRC slapped a record $201 million fine on 12 Japanese automakers it said had engaged in price manipulation.