The aerial photo shows vessels loading and unloading cargos at Lianyungang Port, east China’s Jiangsu province, March 19. (Photo by Wang Chun, People’s Daily Online)
The aerial photo shows vessels loading and unloading cargos at Lianyungang Port, east China’s Jiangsu province, March 19. (Photo by Wang Chun, People’s Daily Online)

By Qiu Haifeng

China has continued the efforts in making its 18 pilot free trade zones (FTZs) a new highland for opening up while ensuring strict prevention and control measures since the onset of COVID-19, injecting vitality into the economy of China and the world at large.

Targeted measures to facilitate production resumption have been introduced by pilot FTZs across the country.

To cope with the shortage of protective supplies, Heihe area of China (Heilongjiang) Pilot Free Trade Zone made use of its warehouses overseas and imported a number of epidemic prevention materials. Besides, it offered over 2,000 sets of protective materials and disinfect equipment to employees of manufacturing enterprises for free.

Thanks to the efforts to simplify business approval, a grocery delivery enterprise in China (Shaanxi) Pilot Free Trade Zone received its electronic certificate in just one day after application. In Dongjiang area of China (Tianjin) Pilot Free Trade Zone, online approval accounted for 98 percent of the total.

Efforts were also made to address the labor shortage. Honghe area of China (Yunnan) Pilot Free Trade Zone held a field trip to enterprises for job-seekers, during which they could have a close look at the working environment and have salary negotiations with the employers. This allowed many to secure a job near their hometown.

By joining hands with relevant departments, Lingang area of the FTZ in Shanghai has built a platform for enterprises to “share” employees. So far, over 10 enterprises have joined the platform and benefited from this ingenious service.

Having learnt the difficulties faced by enterprises in accessing affordable financing, north China’s Hebei pilot FTZ worked closely with financial institutions to provide more loans to trade and foreign-invested enterprises. It also joined hands with relevant departments to prioritize the claims caused by the epidemic.

Regarding the difficulties of enterprises to fulfill contracts, China (Henan) Pilot Free Trade Zone contacted China Council for the Promotion of International Trade Henan Sub-Council, and issued certificates of force majeure for enterprises.

“So far, the measures taken by the pilot FTZs have worked very well, as they responded to enterprises’ demands, met their pressing needs, and facilitated production resumption in an orderly way,” introduced Yuan Yuan, deputy director-general of the Department of Pilot Free Trade Zone and Free Trade Port of the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM).

A collective signing ceremony of 59 programs with total investment of over 160 billion yuan was recently held in Nansha area of Guangdong pilot FTZ. HSBC’s first global training center was one of the many major foreign-invested projects inked that day.

Calling China an important strategic market for HSBC, Peter Wong Tung Shun, HSBC’s Chief Executive for Asia Pacific, said the huge potential of China’s economy and the country’s cutting-edge financial technology had amazed the world.

Despite the impact of the epidemic, all pilot FTZs did not slacken their efforts in improving services for foreign-invested enterprises and attracting investment.

Promoting online signing of contracts, Shaanxi pilot FTZs secured 16 projects since the outbreak of the epidemic. Shanghai pilot FTZ also held similar online activities for an array of key foreign-invested projects on Feb.25, covering 21 projects with a total investment exceeding $1.7 billion.

Nanjing area of China (Jiangsu) Pilot Free Trade Zone actively explored an approach combining both online and offline road show, and continuously perfected an online platform for attracting investment. As a result, ten projects with a total investment of 16.8 billion yuan have been inked in two online activities since Feb.15.

The hard work of the pilot FTZs paid off, according to the statistics in the first two month. Investments flowing to the pilot FTZs in Shanghai and Guangdong grew 13 percent and 12.8 percent, respectively, while that in Hainan, Fujian and Zhejiang was even higher, reaching 230.2 percent, 149.5 percent and 140 percent, respectively.

As pioneers of the country’s pursuit for deepening overall reform and expanding opening-up, pilot FTZs will work faster to drive institutional innovation and improve the business environment.

Guangxi pilot FTZ will implement the rules regarding country of origin declaration and the advance ruling for country of origin in line with the free trade agreement.

Lingang area of Shanghai pilot FTZ made clear that it will simplify cross-border RMB settlement in goods and services for qualified enterprises, so as to realize higher-level trade and investment facilitation.

The MOFCOM also voiced support for FTZs in their exploration for differentiated development, saying that more institutional innovation in specific fields will be carried out.

In addition, China will further shorten the negative list for foreign investment market access and explore a management system for the negative list for cross-border trade in services in FTZs, as well as make more bold explorations in aspects including rules, management and standards, so as to better facilitate opening up.

“Meanwhile, we will also summarize the new achievements of the institutional exploration, apply them to a wider range of areas, and benefit the whole country with the results of deepening overall reform and expanding opening-up, so as to constantly improve the business environment in the country,” Yuan said.

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