Ample policy room seen for opening-up

(China Daily) 08:24, December 18, 2023

Next stage expected to focus on foreign investment, services and digital trade

China has ample policy room to take a myriad of opening-up measures for trade and investment facilitation and liberalization, in order to hedge against external pressure and internal difficulties, senior trade experts and economists said.

Those measures, carried out properly, could enable the country to cultivate a more enabling business climate and further vitalize the nation's unified domestic market, thereby promoting high-quality development and consolidating the confidence of trading partners and foreign investors, they said.

Their comments came as the annual tone-setting Central Economic Work Conference, which was held in Beijing last week, listed the expansion of high-standard opening-up as one of the nine priorities for economic work in 2024.

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and Chinese president, delivered an important speech at the meeting, which reviewed the country's economic work in 2023, analyzed the current economic situation and arranged next year's economic work.

Zhao Zhongxiu, president of the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, said: "Facing rising protectionism in the world, China is determined to expand high-level opening-up. The key is firmly pushing forward institutional opening-up and aligning with international advanced levels in areas such as rules, regulations, management and standards."

"Only through high-standard opening-up could we further improve the socialist market economy system and strengthen the ties and compatibility between the Chinese and international economies, against the background of uncertainties in China-US relations and reorganization of global industrial and supply chains," Zhao added.

Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC in 2012, Xi has made important statements on China unwaveringly promoting high-level opening-up and clearly demonstrating the country's confidence and determination to expand opening-up as it pursues progress in Chinese modernization.

While presiding over the second meeting of the Central Commission for Comprehensively Deepening Reform on July 11, Xi emphasized that establishing new systems for a higher-level open economy is a strategic measure to promote reform and development through opening-up, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Experts said the country's opening-up drive in the next stage is expected to focus on stabilizing foreign investment and increasing openness in the services industry and digital trade. Measures in this regard could range from broadening market access in services sectors such as telecommunications, healthcare, culture and entertainment, and leveling the playing field for all types of market entities, they said.

Wei Jianguo, former vice-minister of commerce, said he expects that China will continue to enhance the market-oriented, law-based business climate that is up to international standards, and abolish regulations that are not in line with the pursuit at central and local government levels.

"Opening up the services industry is a key task to thoroughly implement the opening-up policy, and it is quite innovative and sensible for China to open up financial markets while strengthening supervision to defuse systemic risks. Yet there is still much room for improvement regarding aligning with high-level global economic and trade rules," Wei said.

"We need to further downsize the negative list for foreign investment, improve government oversight efficiency, and remove invisible trade and investment barriers while reducing tariffs and subsidies. It is crucial to promote the free flow of production factors via a unified domestic market to reduce trade and investment costs and improve productivity."

Speaking at an economic forum in Beijing on Wednesday, Tang Wenhong, assistant minister of commerce, said that China will introduce a number of innovative and comprehensive measures in areas such as trade, investment and finance, in order to further advance opening-up.

Tang Yao, an associate professor of applied economics at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management, said the most effective way for China to become more attractive to foreign investment and trade partners is to further unleash the potential of the domestic market, and it is important to restore the confidence of private enterprises to enhance employment and boost household incomes to stimulate domestic demand.

The Central Economic Work Conference said that market access for the telecommunications, medical and other service industries will be eased, while efforts should be made to align with high-standard global economic and trade rules, resolve issues such as cross-border data flow and equal participation in government procurement, and make "Invest in China" a popular choice.

Zhao, the UIBE president, said that China should lower tariffs on intermediate goods, which could increase the country's domestic production capacity and quality, to eventually add resilience to its position in global industrial and supply chains against the background of the adoption of so-called de-risking strategies by some.

He also said that China should enhance the implementation of national treatment for foreign companies while abolishing discriminatory regulations, increase policy stability and transparency, and ensure the equal participation in government procurement of all types of enterprises to encourage fair competition and spur productivity.

In digital trade, China can learn from international practices to relax the cross-border flow of commercial data under the premise of safeguarding national security, in order to better integrate itself into global digital markets, he said.

Experts also said that after the COVID-19 pandemic, some people outside China have misconceptions about the country, so it is important to let the rest of the world fully realize China's determination on opening-up.

Zhao suggested that China further promote the cross-border flow of people and organize more international forums and events to create more face-to-face communication opportunities for Chinese and foreign people, which he said would help improve each other's conceptions.

Thanks to the development prospects and ever-improving business environment in China, many multinational companies said they are committed to the Chinese market.

"I know China will continue to open up and will continue to integrate (with the rest of the world), but I think from where we stand today, it is already a very open, friendly and good place to do business," said Paul Murray, CEO of life and health reinsurance at Swiss Re, a global reinsurer.

Underpinning the rapid growth of China's insurance market are factors including the country's robust economic growth and expanding middle-income population, he said.

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Liang Jun)


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