Free trade zones
The UK is cooperating closely with the Chinese authorities on the development of Free Trade Zones (FTZs) in Shanghai, Fujian, Tianjin and Guangzhou. The new pilot Shanghai FTZ has the potential to change the way UK companies operate in China.
Tianjin Free Trade Zone
Finance-related innovation in this northern marine hub is likely to focus on financial leasing, but there will also be an emphasis on high-end manufacturing and the regional integration of Tianjin, Beijing and Hebei. It is recommended that members in marine transportation (in particular, cruise liners and yachts), logistics, trading, finance, advanced manufacturing and legal and professional services keep a close eye on future announcements here.
The Tianjin park contains three areas: Binhai New Area Central Business District, Dongjiang Bonded Port Zone and Tianjin Port Bonded Zone (including the Airport Economic Zone). At 260 sq km, it is currently nine times the size of the Shanghai zone.
Dongjiang Bonded Port Zone stands out. Ship registration, marine finance and financial leasing, among others, have been encouraged and are developing well. The municipal government has also lent its backing to legal and professional services.
Guangdong Free Trade Zone
Taking advantage of the Mainland-Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) to drive the liberalisation of trade in services, the Guangdong park aims to integrate the economies of the Pearl River Delta (Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau). The financial services sector has already seen much change here and future reform is likely to be heavily service-focused. We recommend that companies in financial, legal and professional services, trading, logistics and marine transportation monitor developments here.
The Guangdong park is expected to strengthen economic bonds between the mainland, Hong Kong and Macao, with a focus on liberalising the trade of services between these separately administered regions. New regulatory systems will be explored, including revising the Customs supervision system and providing more favourable opportunities to Hong Kong companies under CEPA.
It will consist of three zones: Guangzhou Nansha, Shenzhen Qianhai Shekou and Zhuhai Hengqin New District.
The Qianhai Zone as it exists currently is already geared towards Hong Kong with a focus on the professional and financial services sector. According to Qianhai Management Bureau, as of 30th November 2014, of the 17,778 companies registered in the Qianhai Zone, roughly 57% were financial enterprises, including 21 banks and 16 insurance institutions.
Qianhai has had 40 pilot financial measures approved by the central government, some of which have been implemented already. By the end of November 2014, one of the most high-profile and important of these, registered cross-border RMB loans, had reached RMB 73.8 billion. Furthermore, the Qualified Foreign Limited Partner (QFLP) and Qualified Domestic Limited Partner (QDLP) pilot programmes in Qianhai have created new channels for two-way capital movement. The State Council has already approved a policy to allow Chinese companies in Qianhai to issue RMB bonds, known as “dim sum bonds”, in Hong Kong.
Qianhai is the only place on the mainland connected to Macao by bridge, and it can be expected to continue to foster economic links with the island. Nansha has an existing development zone, and the local government has a stated ambition to attract more investment in manufacturing, trading, education, logistics and tourism.
On 18th December 2014, a new agreement was signed under CEPA for the liberalisation of trade services between Guangdong and Hong Kong, which was due to come into force on 1st March 2015. Guangdong will open 153 sub-sectors – 95.6% – of its trade services to Hong Kong. A negative list has been introduced in the agreement to make it more open than CEPA.
Fujian Free Trade Zone
Building on the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed in 2010, the Fujian park aims to develop trade links with Taiwan and in so doing increase exports to and imports from further afield. We recommend that members in trading and logistics or marine transportation pay attention to developments in this park.
The Fujian FTP consists of bonded zone/port areas in Xiamen, a bonded zone/port/economic zone in Fuzhou and an experimental zone in Pingtan.
Enjoying a geographical advantage, the Fujian FTP is designed to strengthen the economic relationship between the mainland and Taiwan following the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in 2010. Although the Taiwan administration has faced some internal issues with the 2013 Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement, the original ECFA has in fact generated a substantial amount of cross-straits trade, a reflection of the privileged status of Taiwanese on the mainland.
Pilot programmes will focus on outbound investment to Taiwan in trading, aerospace, finance, tourism and agriculture. Moreover, new policies are expected with a view to the building of a key port on the Maritime Silk Route, which would facilitate trade and services with other ASEAN countries
Source: CBBC Dec 2014
The following information in this section is highlights from the CBBC report: “China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone”. A copy of the full report can be downloaded at: http://www.cbbc.org/cbbc/media/cbbc_media/KnowledgeLibrary/CBBC-China-%28Shanghai%29-Pilot-Free-Trade-Zone.pdf
Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone
Located in the Pudong New Area of Shanghai, the FTZ is China’s first free trade zone. After being approved by the State Council in August 2013, the FTZ was officially launched on 29th September 2013.
Replacing the traditional “low-cost land policy” of traditional industrial parks, the FTZ differs through not being designed to give preferential treatment to companies operating inside the zone. The FTZ’s focus is instead on implementing pilot policies for exploring new systems of governance alongside an opportunity to modernise existing administrative mechanisms. The FTZ will provide a blueprint for further reform throughout China.
The FTZ currently covers a total area of 28.78 sq km. It comprises four zones supervised by China Customs:
Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone
Waigaoqiao Bonded Logistics Park
Yangshan Free Trade Port Area
Pudong Airport Free Trade Zone
The Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone is about 25km from Shanghai’s CBD. From Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone it takes about 45 minutes to drive to Pudong Airport, whereas Yangshan Free Trade Port Areas is about 90 minutes away.
Note: The site of the FTZ at Waigaoqiao was previously referred to as a “BaoShuiQu” in Mandarin, meaning a bonded zone. Confusingly, however, this “BaoShuiQu” was previously sometimes translated into English as a “Free Trade Zone”. The Shanghai (China) Pilot FTZ is new and unique.
According to statistics issued by the FTZ Management Committee, there were a total of 18,828 companies registered within its perimeters as of June 2014, amongst which 10,445 were registered after the establishment of the FTZ. There are also 31 registered banks, including Citi Bank, HSBC, Standard Chartered, Bank of China, Hang Seng Bank and Deutsche Bank.
By June 2014 there were 1,245 foreign companies registered in the FTZ, nearly nine times more than a year before.
Key highlights of new policies
The stated direction for new policies in the FTZ can generally be grouped into four categories:
i. Expanding the finance sector
Free convertibility for RMB for capital accounts will be reviewed
Liberalisation of interest rates
Permits for qualified foreign banks and private capital groups to set up wholly-owned subsidiaries or joint venture banks
Centralised management for foreign exchange funds; permission for foreign enterprises to participate in future commodity trading; support for host equity trading institutions to establish an integrated financial service platform
Encouraging the development of shipping finance and the freight index derivatives
Gradually granting licences for new cross-border financial products
ii. Simplifying administration processes and expanding market access
The “Negative List” has clarified the administration and business scope of foreign invested enterprises. The Negative List is reviewed on an annual basis and each iteration is expected to feature an expanded number of sectors allowed to have operations within the FTZ. The intentions are:
Simplified procedures for incorporating foreign invested enterprises
Simplified approval for outbound investments
Permission for overseas portfolio companies and master funds establishments to invest overseas
iii. Upgrading of customs supervision framework
Overseas shipments into the FTZ without customs clearance, until goods are sold to outside the FTZ
Classified supervision, and establishment of demonstration and trading platforms for bonded goods
Optimising efficiency of customs inspection, immigration and quarantineprocesses, together with improved port management and more efficient risk control and supervision measures
iv. Creation of a competitive regulatory and tax environment
A key feature is to support innovative business models rather than providing reduced tax rates or universal incentives to all sectors, which are commonplace in special development zones in China.
Under the “Framework Plan”, financial leasing companies in the FTZ are granted an exports value-added tax (VAT) refund – a policy only currently applicable to the domestic companies in the Tianjin Binhai New Area
Investors injecting capital in the form of non-monetary assets into their affiliates in the FTZ may amortise their asset appreciation premium over a period of five years for corporate income tax (CIT) and individual income tax (IIT) purposes
Professionals in high demand may enjoy preferential IIT treatment with respect to gains derived from share-based payments – a policy currently only available in the special zone of Zhongguancun in Beijing
Highlighted New Opportunities:
Investment in retail & wholesale
i. Mail order & online shopping
Foreign invested companies will be allowed to operate mail order and online
retail services with direct mail delivery from overseas, without the need for warehousing in China, while restrictions will remain outside the FTZ. The changes appear to allow large mail order retailers from abroad to set up businesses independently in China.
ii. Food retail, wholesale & distribution
Inside the FTZ, foreign invested companies are allowed to retail, wholesale and distribute products such as grain, vegetable oil and sugar, without a restriction on the number of outlets.
iii. Manufacturing & sales of gaming consoles
Foreign investors are permitted to register a company inside of the FTZ to operate manufacturing and sales of gaming consoles to the Chinese market, (with approval of gaming content).
Trading platforms & services
i. Trade facilitating platforms
Currently there are two models for mail order services in China:
The first is a “direct mail model”. With this model, all products ordered online will be delivered directly from overseas suppliers. There is typically a 7 to 10 day lead time.
The second is the “FTZ model”. With this model, products are stored in the FTZ with a bonded status and delivered to customers from the FTZ after they order. Lead times are much shorter than with the direct mail model as a result. The FTZ model is expected to be increasingly prevalent with time.
One trade facilitating platform which is already proving popular is Kua Jing Tong. It is a good online business platform for UK food and beverage companies to test their products in the Chinese market at reduced risk, before establishing a more independent commercial presence in China.
Direct Mail Model: Kua Jing Tong
Kua Jing Tong is an authorised cross-border online business platform. Some key features of Kua Jing Tong are as below:
More than 20 suppliers and online business operators have already registered with Kua Jing Tong. These include Hyundai department store (the second largest online business operator in Korea), New Tao, Janesce and Sunland.
According to the Management Committee of the FTZ, by the end of 2014 30 online operators are expected to cooperate with Kua Jing Tong, big players such as including Walmart.
Kua Jing Tong is planning to add the FTZ model to their current business processes. Benefits will include improved efficiency of after-sales services, because all products can be returned or changed domestically without shipping back to the port of origin.
Direct Mail Model: Amazon
On 20th August 2014, Amazon signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the FTZ authorities, announcing a move to provide a cross border e-commerce platform, allow greater access to Chinese customers. Amazon says that Chinese customers will be able to buy the products at the same price as those on Amazon’s overseas websites, with only the addition of logistics and customs duties for personal articles.
From June to August 2014, Amazon imported around 1,000 shipments in order to trial the “direct mail model”. Amazon also plans to set up its own logistics warehouse inside the FTZ.
Amazon says that once up and running, an “FTZ model” could be also be established, allowing Amazon to compete in with third party e-commerce platforms such as Tmall.
ii. Waigaoqiao Directly Imported Goods Market (DIG Market)
The DIG Market in the FTZ has already attracted enormous interest from Shanghai residents keen to buy imported goods. Its frozen seafood, meat and fresh fruit, directly imported from overseas, are very popular because of their perceived high quality and relatively low prices compared with other imported produce. Goods displayed in the DIG Market are already duty paid on display.
The DIG Market claims to have about 5,000 stock keeping units (SKUs) and it is expected to increase to 10,000 SKUs in the near future. About 70% of products are food and beverages, and all products are from overseas.
The DIG Market adopts a membership system, but without a membership fee. Products from overseas suppliers can be stocked in the DIG Market by signing a service contract with the operator.
Several other DIG style markets will open soon outside the FTZ in other parts of China. In the future, DIG markets are expected to be rolled out to nationwide hubs and act as delivery distribution sites for online business and small-scale wholesale operations.
By cutting out distributors between overseas suppliers and end customers overseas suppliers, will enjoy enhanced price competitively or profit margins in a new sales channel.
In August 2014, the FTZ Management Committee submitted a pilot plan for Ministry of Commerce’s approval regarding importation of vehicles under the DIG system. If approved, this is a potential development which would provide addition opportunities for UK businesses in the automotive sector.
iii. Shenlan Bonded Exhibition Centre
Another highlight of the FTZ is the Shenlan bonded exhibition centre adjacent to the zone, which has been awarded special approval from Shanghai government. Imported products at Shenlan are considered to have a bonded status for exhibition and sales purposes. The link between “bonded storage” inside of the FTZ and “physical stores” in Shenlan next to the FTZ provides flexibility of storage, exhibition and sales opportunities for suppliers.
China Customs conduct pre-pricing review and electronic supervision, and the China Inspection & Quarantine Bureau (CIQ) conduct pre-inspection on the imported products which facilitates their entry into the FTZ.
At the time products are sold, payment will automatically be split into two parts, the first payment for the products, and the second payment for the products’ customs duty which goes directly to a China Customs bank account. If imported products cannot achieve sales targets after exhibition in Shenlan, unsold products can be returned into the FTZ within three months for re-export or stored in the zone until appropriate sales channels can be found.
According to the FTZ Management Committee, more similar bonded exhibition and trade areas similar to Shenlan are expected to be established in the future.
Bonded exhibition ensures the flexible distribution of products without duty payments and can offer a reduction in cost for importers. British SMEs, who have yet to enter the Chinese market, can benefit from the opportunity these platforms present to test local demand for imported products.
iv. Waigaoqiao International Exhibition & Trading Center of Wine & Beverage (“IWC”)
IWC is currently the biggest exchange platform for imported wine in China. The IWC allows business to exhibit and promote imported beverages and allows a facility to explore local reception to new products. Consignment services and distributor search services can be provided as well as Customs/CIQ services.
The high cost of entering the Chinese market due to the need for regional specific marketing, promotion and advertising has dissuaded some SMEs from setting up in China. The IWC provides an opportunity to display products and develop a regional network at a reduced cost.
IWC provides regular promotions and events, such as product launches, wine tasting events and presentations on import procedures. Some special exhibition areas have been formed for countries such as France, Portugal and Chile.
Other imported beverages found at the IWC include Japanese sake and Mexican tequila.
Other products such as cosmetics, machine tools/engineering machinery, automobiles, pharmaceuticals/medical devices have separate professional platforms for trade and exhibition in the FTZ. For more information, please refer to the Shanghai Waigaoqiao Imported Goods Network official website: http://www.ftztrading.com/
Highlighted New Opportunities:
i. HR services
The permitted JV shareholding of foreign investors has been lifted from 49% as it is outside the FTZ, to permit a controlling stake up to 70%; and the requirement for registered capital has been reduced from USD $300,000 to USD $125,000.
It is estimated by the Ministry of Commerce that the human resource services sector, such as online recruitment, professional outsourcing, and HR management consulting services will be worth billions of RMB in 5 to 10 years, making this an exciting development for foreign HR service providers.
Note that Joint Ventures (JVs) in this report refer to both Equity JVs and Cooperative JVs. Unless stated otherwise, it is implied that a Chinese party is required to own the controlling stake in a JV. And lastly, Joint Ventures are interpreted throughout as a venture between one foreign party and one Chinese party.
ii. Travel services
The FTZ allows foreign investment in outbound tourism with the exception of travel to Taiwan. This contrasts to foreign investment outside the FTZ which is restricted to inbound tourism activities.
iii. Legal services
Chinese law firms and foreign counterparts are encouraged to explore the FTZ’s mechanisms that allow closer business cooperation, such as foreign law firms working with Chinese counterparts to signing agreements and holding joint consultations. However, it is also highlighted in the 2014 “Negative List” that foreign companies wishing to provide legal services can only operate by setting up representative offices within the FTZ.
Transportation & logistics
Highlighted New Opportunities:
It should be noted that the legal barriers to operating in transport and logistics are theoretically relaxed in the FTZ. However, it remains difficult to see if and how foreign invested companies will be permitted to operate even as joint venture partners, or how they could operate a business purely within the confines of the FTZ. Over time as case studies emerge, we will obtain greater clarity about how these new regulations will be work in practice.
i. Rail transportation
While cargo transportation has legally opened up to wholly foreign–owned investment, passenger transport companies remain restricted to JVs, with Chinese partners as controlling shareholders.
ii. Road transportation
Investment in the operations of passenger coach/bus terminal stations are allowed in the FTZ, although limited to joint ventures with foreign ownership not exceeding 49%.
iii. Waterways and ocean freight
Foreign parties will be able to own a controlling share in “Public international ship agencies” for the first time via the FTZ, but not other types of ship agencies.
However, some ambiguity regarding definitions and interpretation remain at this stage.
There are also new opportunities to open wholly foreign-owned enterprises in subsectors such as cargo loading and also marine transportation.
While investment in international ocean shipping operations has been liberalised in certain cases, investment in domestic waterway operations remains restricted to joint ventures, with Chinese partners as controlling shareholders.
iv. Air freight transportation
Air freight operations have opened up to wholly-foreign owned investments, but other areas such as general airline operators remain highly restricted.
Highlighted New Opportunities:
Financial reform and liberalisation is one of the most salient features of the FTZ. In December 2013, the People’s Bank of China announced a financial guideline “Opinions” for the FTZ, followed by some detailed suggested rules and regulations for its implementation. These include:
By the end of June 2014, a large number of foreign and domestic financial institutions had already set up their commercial presence in the FTZ. Data from the FTZ Management Committee shows that there were already 1,859 Asset Management Companies; 436 Financial Leasing Companies and Special Purpose Vehicles; 113 Equity Investment Companies; and 70 Licenced Financial Institutions.
By the end of June 2014 there were 31 domestic or foreign banks operating in the FTZ, including foreign institutions HSBC, Standard Chartered, Citi Bank, DBS, ANZ and Deutsche Bank.
For additional financial innovation case studies, please refer to the FTZ website: http://www.china-shftz.gov.cn/jrcx_index.aspx
i. Accounting services
Outside the FTZ there are a number of restrictions on accountancy firms, including firms being prohibited from opening up branches in the city where their headquarters are located, and from opening more than one branch in a single city.
For the FTZ however, the Ministry of Finance announced that the following types of accounting firms will be allowed to establish branch offices in the FTZ and use “Shanghai PFTZ” in their branch office names.
Qualified Partnerships will be allowed for companies with stable operations
Limited Liability Partnerships will be allowed for companies with more than one year experience, and stable operations
ii. Wholly foreign-owned banks
In the FTZ, foreign financial institutions are permitted to establish wholly foreign-owned banks, or joint ventures with qualified private capital.
iii. Restricted licence banks
Restricted licence banks (banks working primarily in wholesale banking) are to be allowed in the FTZ on a trial basis. Detailed implementation rules and regulations are currently awaiting release, after which we will know more about how to substantiate this opportunity.
iv. Offshore businesses
Qualified Chinese banks in the FTZ are allowed to open a Free Trade Account for financing, investment and other cross-border transactions separated from onshore transactions.
v. Financial leasing companies
Financial leasing companies are allowed to provide a wider range of services and better utilise offshore funds to establish SPVs for carrying out single-ship and single-aircraft leasing businesses.
Medical institutions & insurance
Highlighted New Opportunities:
Restrictions will be lifted on the minimum total investment and operating terms for medical businesses. This allows the establishment of wholly foreign-owned medical clinics or hospitals.
In July 2014, the FTZ signed agreement with Artemed Group, a German medical and health care provider, to become the first wholly foreign-owned medical institution in mainland China.
Medical Insurance Providers
Highlighted New Opportunities:
According to the FTZ authorities, more than 20 international high-end medical institutions are already in talks with the Chinese government, with the intention of entering into China’s healthcare market soon.
Whilst it is promising to see liberalisation of China’s medical insurance industry, there are still a number of practical issues obstructing future foreign investment. One significant issue is that national legislation, which remains in the FTZ, limiting foreign doctors to 12 months’ work in China. Another is the restriction on the import of medical devices - specifically high-tech equipment classed as ‘Category I’ items which require approval from China’s central government.
In September 2014, Shanghai Life Insurance Company received official approval to set up in the FTZ becoming its first legal insurance company entity. Although this was a Chinese insurance company, foreign invested insurance institutions are currently allowed to enter into China via joint ventures, and we expect substantial policy revisions to be announced regarding their operation in the FTZ in the future.
Highlighted New Opportunities:
Foreign companies in the telecommunication sector in the FTZ must fulfil qualification requirements including:
All secured operational capital and professionals must be appropriate to the scale of their business
The minimum registered capital is RMB 1 million
Foreign companies must have secured business premises, equipment, technical solutions and regulations in place to protect the security of information. The facilities and equipment of the service must also be located inside the FTZ
Both the company’s major investors and senior management team must have no record of violating Chinese telecommunication administration and management regulations in the last three years
The following areas of telecoms are still prohibited or heavily restricted for foreign firms in the FTZ as they are outside:
Other telecommunication services including voice calling
Radio stations, television stations, channels, transmission and coverage networks
Provision of news websites and online audio and video
Engagement and participation in online gaming operational services
Internet data centre operations
i. Marine design (luxury cruise ships & yachts)
Foreign investors are allowed to establish wholly foreign-owned companies in the FTZ, in contrast to elsewhere in China where they can only operate as joint ventures. Finnish ship design company ALMACO has already registered as the first foreign design company in the FTZ.
ii. Engineering design
Qualification requirements for foreign invested engineering companies registered in the FTZ have been relaxed.
Artwork Trading Services
Businesses such as art dealers and auctioneers can take advantage of the FTZ’s bonded goods function. The FTZ also offers preferential legislation and facilities for artwork storage, exhibition and trading which companies can also utilise.
By not needing to pay large amounts of customs duties and deposits during the period of exhibition, art dealers can enjoy a reduced financial risk. International auction houses or art dealers can take this opportunity to enter the China and East Asia markets via the FTZ.
Christie’s the British auction house is currently operating in the FTZ to take advantage of its new features.
Shanghai International Artwork Bonded Trading Center
Located in Waigaoqiao, the Shanghai International Artwork Trading Center has formally operated since September 2013. It expects to become the largest art dealing facility in China by 2016.
The Center offers secure facilities with strict temperature and humidity controls that allow valuable pieces of art to be stored safely. Artwork stored in the Center also enjoys the FTZ’s bonded duty policy which provides companies with greater flexibility on imports.
For more information see: http://www.artwgq.com/english/index.php
The establishment of wholly foreign-owned entertainment agencies such as promoters or events companies are permitted within the FTZ and can provide services for the wider Shanghai area. Outside of the FTZ, foreign invested entertainment agencies must be formed as joint ventures with a Chinese partner.
The “Negative List” maintains some restrictions and prohibitions to foreign investment in the entertainment sector. This includes restricting all production of radio, television and film projects to joint ventures (as found outside the FTZ) and prohibiting all foreign investment within the news and publishing sectors.
Highlighted New Opportunities:
FTZ regulations allow foreign companies to establish educational and vocational training institutions without complicated approvals and registration from several authorities, provided they are in form of a joint venture.
After signing a registration contract in August 2014, Harrow International School Shanghai is due to open in 2015. This will be the fourth Harrow International School in Asia, follows the opening of campuses in Bangkok, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Source CBBC report: “China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone” Oct 2014
Companies who are looking at developing in China in general or in the FTZ in particular are encouraged to contact the China-Britain Business Council for a copy of the full guide, or download from the CBBC at: http://www.cbbc.org/cbbc/media/cbbc_media/KnowledgeLibrary/
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