China will step up efforts to accelerate free trade port construction this year, a further step to build on the success of free trade zones across the country, the Ministry of Commerce said.
Assistant Minister of Commerce Ren Hongbin said one of the ministry’s priorities in 2019 is to advance the building of free trade zones and explore steps to construct free trade ports in China.
The ministry will draw on international experience and come up with policies and institutional systems for building free trade ports “as soon as possible”, Ren said at a news conference on Jan 16.
Free trade ports are regarded as the world’s most open form of economic zone, which has brought prosperity to places such as Singapore thanks to broad-based preferential policies on trade and investment.
It is open to all commercial vessels on equal terms. Goods may be unloaded, stored and shipped without the payment of customs duties.
According to last year’s government guidelines, a free trade port system will be “basically established” in Hainan by 2025. Last April, China announced it would develop the island into a pilot free trade zone, through which Hainan will be granted more capacity to reform, and speed up the fostering of a law-based, international, and convenient business environment.
Zhao Ping, a senior researcher at the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade Academy, said: “It is necessary to create a high-tech talent pool to help to speed up the pace of transforming Hainan into a free port. Key focus areas would include shipping, logistics and finance, so talent in these sectors should be valued.”
Sang Baichuan, a professor at the University of International Business and Economics, said specially tailored policies are also needed in terms of market access, financial systems and taxation.
Tianjin, a coastal city in northern China, plans to apply for the establishment of a free trade port, which can further integrate the development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, said the administration of China (Tianjin) Pilot Free Trade Zone. In a recent emailed interview with China Daily, the administration revealed that the construction plan will be submitted to the higher authorities “in due course”.
About five years ago, China set up its first FTZ in Shanghai as a way to promote trade and investment. Since then, pilot FTZs have sprung up across the country. In all, 12 have been built or planned.
Ren said in 2019, the ministry will support Shanghai to boldly innovate in facilitating investment and trade.
The ministry will further reduce the negative list for foreign investment access in the pilot FTZs, and accelerate the further opening of key areas such as medical care and education, Ren said.