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China Branch of Instant Noodle Association Suspected of Legitimacy
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The Chinese branch of an international noodle makers association may be banned as an illegal organization after becoming tangled in accusations of operating price-fixing.


A north China lawyer has appealed to authorities to investigate the legitimacy of the Chinese branch of the International Ramen Manufacturers Association (IRMA) after the latest jump in instant noodle prices.


Hao Jiguang, from Hebei Province, has appealed to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) to investigate whether the Chinese subsidiary of the IRMA has illegally manipulated prices of one of the nation's most popular dishes, the Beijing News reported.


He also appealed to the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MOCA) to ban the branch if it is recognized as an illegal civil organization.


MOCA notified Hao on Monday that it found no registration information of the branch, which could indicate its legal status.


Media reports have accused the Chinese branch of the IRMA of participating three times in talks about prices among a number of major domestic instant noodle producers.


Meng Suhe, an official with the IRMA branch, has said the instant noodle makers, who hold a combined 95 percent share of the domestic market, made a collective decision to raise prices due to increased costs of raw materials.


It was acceptable for industries to raise prices if costs rose, but they should not meet in private and collude on price hikes, said Qiu Baochang, a legal consultant for the China Consumers' Association.


China's Price Law and the NDRC anti-monopoly regulations ban companies from colluding with each other to manipulate prices.


Qiu said the collective decision might have breached the Price Law and violated the rights of consumers.


The price of every packet of instant noodles has increased by an average 20 percent, sparking widespread consumer complaints and more public concern over rising food prices across the country.


The low-end instant noodles cost only one yuan (13 US cents) per packet before the price change.


The NDRC said on Aug. 2 it has ordered local pricing authorities to launch investigations into prices of major food products, including grain, edible vegetable oil, instant noodles, and pork.


China makes 51 percent of all instant noodles in the world with more than 46 billion packets produced last year.


(Xinhua News Agency August 9, 2007)


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