The Wall Street Journal reports on a civil antitrust complaint accusing four Chinese vitamin makers of price fixing. China's Ministry of Commerce got involved in the case, putting forward a defense of sovereign immunity:
In its filings and oral arguments, the ministry broadly asserted sovereign immunity in its defense of vitamin and other industries. In a courtroom exchange prior to the ruling earlier this month, the judge asked the ministry's lawyer, "It is fair to say that, as you describe the powers of the ministry, in theory, they could require price fixing for any industry?" Mr. Mitnick responded, "Yes, in theory they could require price fixing for any industry. That's correct."
In its filings, the ministry said the price coordination by vitamin companies "was adopted to forestall potential market disorders that might have limited the development of a healthy vitamin C export industry during China's transition from a command economy to a market-driven economy."
In their court filings, the four largest Chinese vitamin makers don't dispute that they acted together to set prices. Rather, they argue they did not violate the law because they were compelled by the ministry to coordinate export prices and production.
Here's my question: Does the Chinese government's role here make these companies "state enterprises," or does the price coordination plan amount to an "exclusive or special privilege," thereby making GATT Article XVII applicable?