The name plate of the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone on a gate of the Waigaoqiao free trade zone in Shanghai. [ZHAO YUN / FOR CHINA DAILY]
China will speed up its strategy for free trade zones, a key initiative in further opening up, President Xi Jinping said on Thursday as he joined a discussion with lawmakers from Shanghai, where the country's first such zone was established.
Institutional innovation will provide a strong impetus for development, and high standards should be set for trade and investment, he said at the meeting on the sidelines of the ongoing National People's Congress annual session.
"Innovation is the most important driving force for development," Xi said, adding that China needs to break through "system and mechanism barriers" to innovation.
The president, who has been a frequent participant in panel discussions among the Shanghai delegation to the NPC, also highlighted the need to better allocate financial resources around the world to boost the economy.
The central government announced in December that China would dramatically expand the Shanghai Free Trade Zone and set up three new zones in Guangdong and Fujian provinces and Tianjin municipality.
The Shanghai Free Trade Zone was set up in 2013 to liberalize regulations governing finance, investment and trade in the area. Such moves are considered key levers for restructuring China's economy and putting it on a more sustainable growth path.
Zhang Zhao'an, an NPC deputy and economist in Shanghai, suggested making the negative list－the list of sectors where foreign investment is banned or restricted－more transparent. Shanghai is set to unveil a shorter negative list in the first half of this year, according to media reports.
Xi, who used to be Party chief in Shanghai, also highlighted strict regulations for high-level officials, amid the nation's sweeping anti-graft campaign.
This comes less than a week after top-level reformers approved Shanghai's pilot plan to toughen oversight of the business activities of officials' relatives, including spouses and children.
Xi, head of the Leading Group for Overall Reform of the CPC Central Committee, asked the city to carry out the plan in a stable manner and produce experience that could be used elsewhere.
Ying Yong, Shanghai deputy Party secretary, said the involvement of family members in commercial concerns is likely to lead corruption, and such a phenomenon is particularly common in developed areas. Even if these relatives run businesses legally, the public still has concerns about potential damage to the market and justice, said Ying, who is also an NPC deputy.