Nearly 19,500 companies have been attracted to China’s three new pilot free trade zones, many involved in the country’s fast-growing services and financial sectors.
A total of 19,470 enterprises started operations in the zones by the end of June, said Tang Wenhong, director-general of the Ministry of Commerce’s department of foreign investment administration.
Tianjin, Guangdong and Fujian were added to the pilot free trade zone list in April, after the first FTZ, the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone, was unveiled nearly two years ago.
The sites are being created to simplify the often-cumbersome trade approval system and encourage innovation and internationalization.
Tang said plans are afoot to further increase the nation’s flexibility to compete with more established trade rivals in the Asia-Pacific region, and the FTZs will continue to play a central role in that process.
FTZ refers to an area within which goods can be imported, processed and re-exported without the intervention of customs authorities.
Foreign investors, from sectors in which trade is still restricted elsewhere in the country, also have the chance to set up facilities in the zones.
“The three new FTZs have duplicated the practices of the Shanghai FTZ,” said Tang.
“The companies within them are enjoying an administration regime, trade regulatory model, financial systems and other reforms and innovation benefits on offer to investors.”
Guangdong FTZ’s principal goal is to increase trade cooperation between the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong and Macao.
The zone has further removed and relaxed a number of market access limits for investors from both regions, including restrictions on equity ratios and limits on business volumes.
The Tianjin zone is designed to promote a more coordinated development of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province. It plans to focus on shipping services and finance, with policies regarding ship registration and other areas of maritime law and arbitration being fine-tuned and improved to allow the port city to compete better with other international shipping hubs such as Hong Kong and Singapore.
In Fujian province, meanwhile, FTZ officials are striving to deepen cross-Straits economic cooperation, with the zone expected to become a demonstration area for intensified economic cooperation with Taiwan, and a focal point for goods setting out on the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, along with nearby Guangdong province.
The modern Maritime Silk Road begins in Fujian and Guangdong, before heading south into the ASEAN region. From the Straits of Malacca, it then turns west to South Asia, the Persian Gulf and Europe.
Li Guanghui, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, said establishing more free trade zones is inevitable.
“China is keen to play a bigger role in the free trade industry chain, not only in East Asia but in the whole Asia-Pacific region.
“Quality FTZs can enable it to reach that goal,” said Li.
Official numbers from Shanghai FTZ show it attracted 4,599 registered enterprises between January and May.