The State Council issued a guideline on Dec 17 urging a speedier establishment of free trade areas (FTA), with an ultimate goal of forging a global FTA network.
Underlining the significance of stepping up the FTA strategy, the guideline said that it is an important part of a new round of reform and opening up, a requirement for adapting to economic globalization and an inevitable choice for reform and establishing an open economic system.
The guideline urges sticking to the decisive role of the market in resource allocation and ensuring that the government can play its role better, while making use of international and domestic markets.
The guideline also said that efforts should be stepped up to implement a more active FTA strategy by further opening up free trade areas, taking part in framing international rules and expanding reform.
While the short-term goal is to speed up ongoing FTA negotiations and establish free trade zones with neighboring countries and regions, the guideline said that the long-term goal is to forge a global FTA network that further covers countries along the route of the Belt and Road Initiative and other important countries.
The guideline stressed that high-level free trade zones should be established by further opening trade of goods and the service industry, broadening investment access and actively participating in FTA negotiations.
It also called for more convenience for trade as well as exit and entry of employees of Chinese enterprises overseas.
To broaden investment access, it urged further opening the investment market, reforming the foreign capital management system, and optimizing the foreign investment environment.
Better market access and investment protection conditions should be created for Chinese investors to “go global”, and monetary cooperation with free trade partners should be strengthened to facilitate trade and investment, added the guideline.
In terms of FTA negotiations, the guideline suggested speeding up negotiations on such new issues as intellectual property protection, environmental protection, e-commerce, competition policies and government procurement.
To facilitate trade, the guideline suggested carrying out the “single-window” system for international trade, simplifying customs clearance procedures, and promoting paper-free inspection and quarantine declaration.
The difficult problems in FTA negotiations can be tested in pioneering free trade zones such as Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone in advance to provide a basis for negotiations, said the guideline.
To speed up implementing the FTA strategy, the guideline called on the Ministry of Commerce and related authorities to frame action plans and establish coordination mechanisms.