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The new zone is being seen as the most important attempt at reform since Communist leader Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China's transformation to a market economy, designated Shenzhen on the border with Hong Kong a special economic zone in 1980.
"The establishment of the Shanghai free-trade zone is a significant move for China to conform to new trends in the global economy and trade," Mr Gao said.
The new zone "shows that the new government is keen on making reforms", said Stefan Sack of the European Chamber of Commerce in China but he added that "a free-trade zone in Shanghai alone will not change how business is done in China".
The goals are to upgrade financial services, promote trade and improve governance as well as measures to encourage foreign investment in 18 sectors in the co ...
1. The development of Shanghai Free-trade Zone 4
2. The meaning of Shanghai Zone 9
3. Аnalysis and prospects of Free-trade Zone 16
Shanghai Free-trade Zone is the first Hong Kong-like free trade area in mainland China. The plan was first announced by the government in July and it was personally endorsed by Premier Li Keqiang who said he wanted to make the zone a snapshot of how China can upgrade its economic structure. Other mainland cities and provinces including Tianjin and Guangdong have also lobbied Beijing for such approvals. The Shanghai FTZ will first span 28.78 square kilometres in the city's Pudong New Area, including the Waigaoqiao duty-free zone and Yangshan port and it is believed it may eventually expand to cover the entire Pudong district which covers 1,210.4 sq km of land.
The goals are to upgrade financial services, promote trade and improve governance as well as measures to encourage foreign investme nt in 18 sectors in the country's tightly regulated service industry.
Even before it officially opened on September 29, Shanghai's Free Trade Zone (FTZ) has been the subject of endless speculation. Another step forward from the Special Economic Zones established in the past and slated to be the first of its kind in China, it was dogged by rumors of unfettered internet access and currency exchange while officials remained tight-lipped on any developments. Now two and a half months in, many details still remain unclear.
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Dai Haibo, deputy secretary general of Shanghai's government and vice-director of the zone's management committee, said it would take three years to determine whether the zone's rules and system were effective.1
After three years, the country will build on the experience gleaned from the Shanghai free-trade zone and there may be further reform goals, he told a news conference following the official opening ceremony.
Wei Yao, a China economist at Société Générale, said in a research note that setting up the zone in Shanghai, a city of "great strategic importance", was a clear sign that policymakers wanted to push for fast economic liberalisation.
"The framework that is shaping up looks rather promising, although details of most measures are to be put in place over the course of six months to a year," she wrote. "Like all previous economic experiments, this project is going to be a work in progress, subject to constant refinement."
China's state council announced rules for the zone. They outline goals to upgrade financial services, promote trade and improve governance as well as measures to encourage foreign investment in 18 sectors in the country's tightly regulated service industry.
There are also plans to experiment with the convertibility of China's tightly controlled currency, the yuan, and let market forces rather than regulators set interest rates. The zone is expected to serve as a testing ground for such financial experiments before they are rolled out elsewhere in China. No timeline was given for any changes, but rules in the zone will be introduced over a three-year period.2
3. Аnalysis and prospects of Free-trade Zone
The FTZ involves reforms in investment, commerce, finance, and administrative law, according to media reports.
For the past three decades, China’s economic reforms have followed former leader Deng Xiaoping’s slogan “cross the river by feeling the stones,” using a step-by-step approach to make gradual progress. This pilot zone in Shanghai should be dubbed, “going to the sea by feeling the stones.”
Whether or not the Chinese yuan will succeed in the Shanghai FTZ will largely depend on how far the top leaders in Beijing dare to go.
Some analysts have suggested that the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement was the motive behind Premier Li Keqiang’s cabinet endorsing the FTZ.
“The free trade zone will play a pivotal role in China’s negotiations for joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. The zone can be expected to serve as China’s first window opening to the outside world after joining the TPP,” said Qi Xiaozhai, director of the Shanghai Commercial Economic Research Center.
Since Chinese authorities are concerned about possibly joining the TPP, the United States may not buy into the pilot zone – it is not designed for the whole country’s system yet.
If the authorities had made such a decision in the early 1980s, at the beginning of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, the United States might have listened then. Today, as more truth behind China’s rapid economic growth, excessive social imbalances, and rampant political corruption has been uncovered, the United States and other TPP partner countries are not so willing to play ball with China.1
With a population of some 23 million people and an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) of US$500 billion, Shanghai ranks among the top 30 economies in the world by GDP. Could Shanghai alone, an economic entity with capital-account liberalization, join the TPP? Truly accomplishing this would require completely segregating the Shanghai FTZ from the rest of China.
Skeptical economists point out that the Chinese leadership initiated the notion of convertibility in its capital accounts in 1993, but since then they have failed to follow through. The previous failure suggests that this pilot zone is being used to give the appearance of financial reform, but is really devoid of substance, according to Reuters.
By claiming that the Shanghai FTZ is a pioneer on the mainland of wider yuan convertibility and market-oriented exchange and interest rates, the Communist regime affirmed that its currency liberalization in the zone would create a more favorable economic climate for the country and the outside world.
In 2011, the first year of China’s 12th five-year economic plan (2011-2015), the authorities promised that the yuan would achieve “full convertibility” under the capital account by 2015 without setting any milestones to achieve this goal. More than two and a half years have passed, but the yuan convertibility is far behind schedule.
At this point, the reforms within the FTZ are just a test bed, but the chance for its expansion throughout the rest of the country is remote. Even if it can be done in the zone within a year, it will take at least a few more years to be replicated and popularized in other cities or regions. It’s very unlikely that the yuan convertibility plan will expand nationwide during the 12th economic plan.
A country unable to deliver on its promises is scarcely creditworthy whatever its form of state government.
Regardless of the intentions of Li Keqiang’s cabinet, the free exchange of the Chinese yuan will likely only help to facilitate hot money flows. Corrupt officials will be able to transfer assets legitimately; further exacerbating China’s ongoing hot money problems. Hot money is already moving almost unhindered into and out of the country through underground channels.
“It’s difficult to segregate the Shanghai FTZ from the rest of China. There will be money flows underground. It can be said that the FTZ experiment opens a hole in China’s capital account wall,” said Wang Tao, chief China economist at UBS, as reported by the communist regime’s mouthpiece Xinhua.
Many analysts warn that firms and governmental officials in the FTZ could abuse their privileges in order to profit from dealings with firms outside the zone in China, threatening the country’s economic growth and harming the welfare of Chinese households.
What does free yuan convertibility in the Shanghai FTZ really imply? The full realization of it will trigger a wave of more corruption and rent seeking by Chinese officials, leading to huge influxes of the yuan into the zone and large outflows of foreign currency out of China.
As this trend continues to grow, the Beijing authorities have only two ways to go: either put an end to this economic test ground by admitting their failure in “going into the sea by feeling the stones,” or split Shanghai from the country, making it become financially independent like Hong Kong.
For sure, the first outcome will bring shame and disgrace to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the second may invite other provinces or cities to seek economic or even political independence, unequivocally resulting in the complete collapse of the CCP.1
To look at it you wouldn't think the future of the world's second largest economy depended on it.
The 10-sq-km block in the eastern suburbs of Shanghai currently contains a few bonded warehouses, some factories and the odd patch of open scrubland.
But the brand new sign, with the words "Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone" written on a yellow and red steel archway over the access highway, is causing quite a stir nonetheless.
The plan, which has some powerful backers including China's Prime Minister, Li Keqiang, is being seen as deeply significant – a sign that the country's leadership is preparing to test out important, and long awaited, economic reforms.
Some are already drawing parallels with China's great architect of economic transformation, Deng Xiaoping.
"There is a lot of resistance towards reform, especially in the financial sector," Xu Bin, professor of economics and finance at the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), tells me.
"So Li Keqiang is learning from Deng Xiaoping. He wants to start from a small area as a breakthrough, so he picked Shanghai. Symbolically speaking, it is very, very significant."
Free trade zones are not new to China. In fact, the bonded warehouses and the factories mentioned are already part of the existing Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone which offers customs benefits to manufacturers and traders.
But it is the backing of China's State Council, the country's cabinet, with the recent suspension of certain laws relating to foreign investors that signals something different is about to take shape in Shanghai.
In fact, four existing bonded zones – Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone, Waigaoqiao Free Trade Logistics Park, Yangshan Free Trade Port Area and Pudong Airport Free Trade Zone – will all find themselves inside the new pilot zone.
Haibin Zhu, chief China economist at JPMorgan, also believes that the new combined, 28-sq-km area will be about so much more than just tax breaks for imports and exports. "The free trade zone is about a more high level openness and reform," he says. "So it includes at least four areas. One is the traditional trade openness, but also on top of that there is investment reform, administrative reform and financial reform. "The core part," he adds, "is how to redefine the relationship between the government and the markets."
Draft plans have been circulating suggesting that in redefining that relationship, the government is preparing to step aside, lightening the heavy regulatory load it places on the financial sector.
Banks inside the zone may be given more freedom over interest rates. Limits may be lifted on currency exchanges. And foreign investors may be allowed access to industries that are heavily protected in the rest of China, like telecommunications. All of these are steps that liberal reformers, both inside and outside of China, have long been urging the government to take.
But in reality it has not been easy. In the face of powerful vested interests the momentum of Deng Xiaoping's economic opening up, launched 30 years ago, has slowed, even slipped backwards a little some might argue.1
The idea of allowing Chinese people to freely swap their yuan for dollars, for example, terrifies the state-controlled banks, because large sums of capital would quickly flow abroad in search of more favourable returns in overseas wealth products.
And overseas-based speculative investors may send large sums of money in the other direction with unpredictable, destabilising effect. But now, if it lives up to its billing, the Chinese leadership will have a testing ground in the new Shanghai Free Trade Zone. "If you understand China you know that it is impossible to push a radical policy at the national level," Prof Xu Bin from CEIBS tells me.
It is worth noting, however, that there are, so far, very few concrete details about exactly what will, or won't be allowed in the zone, and what the likely timetable for the roll-out of any reforms might be.
Perhaps, in practice, it may turn out to be little more than a symbolic gesture, the appearance of doing something, while simply further postponing the real and painful country-wide economic reform that so many believe is so necessary. Much will depend on how strong a firewall is set up between the zone and Greater China.
The point is to keep the reforms limited and contained of course, but if there are no spillover advantages for businesses on the outside then the experiment may well prove meaningless. But hopes are being raised.On one small patch of China it looks like trade, investment and money are all about to start flowing a bit more freely and that will be welcome news for many observers. If it isn't the long awaited great leap forward, it is at least a start.1
The opening of a free-trade zone in Shanghai has rekindled hopes for a long-heralded international board in the city, with financial liberalisation expected in the zone likely to offer foreign-funded firms a fast track to listing on the A-share market.
However, fund managers and analysts said weak market sentiment meant the launch of such a board was not imminent.
The zone, where experiments in financial liberalisation will be conducted, is regarded as an ideal location for an international board, where foreign companies could float yuan-denominated initial public offerings and see their shares traded.
Mainland media said yesterday that the establishment of the stock exchange branch in the zone indicated the regulators had put the international board back on their agenda.
Such reports knocked the key indicators down yesterday amid worries about an equity influx that could dilute existing holdings.
The Shanghai Composite Index ended the day lower after rising for four consecutive sessions, losing 20.84 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 2,190.93.
"Talk about the international board was to blame for the drop," said Dong Jun, a Shanghai-based hedge fund manager. "Every time such talk surfaces, the market reacts in a hostile manner."
The establishment of an international board was part of Shanghai's plan to transform itself into a global financial centre by 2020.
The China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) gave in principle the Shanghai exchange approval to launch the board in mid-2011, but it later made an about-face, putting it on hold in the wake of lacklustre market sentiment.
At that time, the regulator asked major state-owned media to help smooth the way for the launch of the board and not to publish negative stories about it.
Last year, then CSRC chairman Guo Shuqing said it was not necessary to create an international board, in an apparent effort to bolster investor confidence.
The commission has suspended initial public offerings on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges since October last year to stem equity supply to the bearish market, and it has yet to announce a timetable for the resumption of new share offerings.1
It is expected that «qualified» individual investors will be able to make various foreign investments, including trading overseas securities, a landmark measure that the eastern city of Wenzhou has been lobbying over for years without gaining final approval from Beijing due to capital flight concerns.
Firms within the zone will also be able to borrow money from overseas lenders and use the proceeds outside the zone, a big relaxation compared with Shenzhen's Qianhai , which says that non-financial firms that borrow offshore yuan must use the proceeds in that zone.
The central bank only said it would lift the cap on rates for some small foreign-currency deposits when "conditions are ready" and allow certain qualified institutions to issue certificates of deposit.
Official data shows 38 foreign firms are among the roughly 1,400 to have registered in the zone, reflecting external investors' doubts over the level of Beijing's commitment to pushing ahead with reform.
China Banking Regulatory Commission approval was still needed before any account could be set up in the zone, said Liu Ligang, chief China economist at ANZ Banking Group, who added that the key question now was how to control the flow of capital.
"It seems everyone could shift their capital there as the guideline lacks a clear definition on who can open accounts in the zone and who cannot," Liu said. "This is very dangerous. Such loose rules could cause huge hot money inflows into mainland China and make the domestic asset bubble even bigger."2
Detailed plans for the Shanghai Free Trade Zone (FTZ) have fueled hopes for further reforms and liberalization in China but some analysts think it's too early to celebrate.
"We think the importance of the Shanghai FTZ will surely surpass any other existing special zones," Ting Lu, China economist at Merrill Lynch, said. "However, we believe markets need to curb their enthusiasm if they hope the FTZ will become a strong competitor of Hong Kong... [or will] rapidly unveil a new era of comprehensive reforms for the whole China," added Lu.
Plans unveiled over the weekend confirmed that restrictions for foreign investment in the tightly-controlled service industry will be eased, while the domestic currency will potentially be opened up to market forces within the new 28.8-square kilometer district.
Furthermore, state officials said the zone will be viewed as a testing ground for reforms that could eventually be rolled out across China, a sign that the world's largest economy could be moving towards relaxing restrictions on foreign investment.
But according to Lu, although many investors hope the FTZ could rival the success of Hong Kong, where many Chinese companies go to raise global funds and which has thrived as an offshore center for the renminbi, he doubted this would be the case.
Lu considers there will be no special tax treatments in the FTZ, while Hong Kong's 16 percent personal income tax will continue to retain talent and headquarters of global banks. Secondly, though the central government vowed to build a business environment with rule of law and international standards, the very requirement of 'replicability' might hinder bold legal and administrative reforms, which are crucial for building a center for finance and commerce. Lu also cast doubt over whether the new trade zone would likely form a blueprint for reforms to be rolled out across China.
He said that unfortunately many much needed reforms in China, such as reforms on state-owned enterprises, public finance, land ownership and the Hukou system (a household registration system that links benefits like health care, education and pensions to a person's place of birth and discourages migration) won't be in the spotlight in the small 28.8 square km Shanghai FTZ. Shanghai is too unique to test many of China's necessary reforms, and the FTZ is just too small to have the capacity to test those reforms.
However, other industry commentators were more convinced that the new zone would lead to widespread reform in China.
"The official launch of the Shanghai pilot free trade zone will likely trigger a new wave of reforms and liberalization in the coming years. This is comparable to the Special Economic Zone in the early 1980s and the Pudong Development Zone in the early 90s," said HSBC analysts in a note.
In the early 1980s China opened a series of special economic zones to test economic policies and government measures. Pudong, another Special Economic Zone, is currently home to the Shanghai Stock Exchange as well as some of Shanghai's most iconic buildings.
The analysts expect concrete measures of services sector deregulation and financial reforms to be unveiled in the coming months. This will have profound implications for China's long-term growth outlook and financial landscape.1
Recently Shanghai has applied to the central government for permission to build a multibillion-yuan container port facility to further develop its free-trade zone.
1. China opens Shanghai free-trade zone. The Guardian. Sunday 29 September 2013 // http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/29/china-shanghai-free-trade-zone.
2. Davis, Bob and Silk, Richard. China to Test Looser Grip on Economy. New Free-Trade Zone in Shanghai Opens. The Wall Street Journal // http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304795804579100640245613408.
3. Free-trade zone renews hopes for foreign board. Friday, 11 October, 2013 // http://www.scmp.com/business/money/markets-investing/article/1329000/free-trade-zone-renews-hopes-foreign-board.
4. Han Zheng: How Shanghai's Free Trade Zone Works // http://english.caixin.com/2013-11-14/100604877.html.
5. Holliday, Katie. Why Shanghai free trade zone is no match for Hong Kong. Monday, 30 Sep 2013 // http://www.cnbc.com/id/101071983.
6. Jeanny Yu. Proposals announced to boost Shanghai Free Trade Zone. Monday, 02 December, 2013 // http://www.scmp.com/business/economy/article/1371388/proposals-announced-boost-shanghai-free-trade-zone.
7. Overview of the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone // http://www.mallesons.com/Documents/Shanghai_FTZ_Overview.pdf.
8. Patch, James. Shanghai Opens Free Trade Zone; Internet Restrictions Remain. The Diplomat. September 29, 2013 // http://thediplomat.com/2013/09/shanghai-opens-free-trade-zone-internet-restrictions-remain.
9. Roberts, Dexter. Shanghai's New Free-Trade Zone: Reform Breakthrough or Hype? September 20, 2013 // http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-09-20/shanghais-new-ftz-trade-reform-breakthrough-or-hype.
10. Schuman, Michael. Shanghai Has a Free-Trade Zone, so Now What? // http://business.time.com/2013/09/30/shanghai-has-a-free-trade-zone-so-now-what/#ixzz2nqME3LD2.
11. Shanghai Free Trade Zone: The next Shenzhen? // http://www.economist.com/news/china/21587237-new-enterprise-zone-could-spark-wider-market-reformsbut-only-if-bureaucrats-ease-their-grip.
12. Shanghai Free-Trade Zone Plans Spark Surge in Residential Prices. Emerging Markets News // http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-25/shanghai-free-trade-zone-plans-spark-surge-in-residential-prices.html.
13. Shanghai Free-Trade Zone struggles through birth. Saturday, 09 November, 2013 // http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1351259/shanghai-free-trade-zone-struggles-through-birth.
14. Shanghai FTZ: China’s Globalization 2.0. Zhang Monan, researcher, China Int'l Economic Exchanges Center. September 27, 2013 // http://www.chinausfocus.com/finance-economy/shanghai-ftz-chinas-globalization-2-0.
15. Shanghai research on FTZ details. China.org.cn, October 15, 2013 // http://www.china.org.cn/business/2013-10/15/content_30300107.htm.
16. Shanghai wants to expand container port. 2 December, 2013 // http://www.scmp.com/business/economy/article/1370442/shanghai-wants-expand-container-port.
17. Shanghai's Free Trade Zone // http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/suzhou/articles/blogs-suzhou/business/shanghais-free-trade-zone1.
18. Sudworth, John. Shanghai's free trade zone raises hopes. BBC News, Shanghai. 26 September 2013.
19. Welcome to Investing in Shanghai Free Trade Zones... // http://ftz-shanghai.com.
20. Xie, Frank. Will Shanghai Free Trade Zone Succeed? Epoch Times. October 19, 2013.
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