China’s ministry of commerce has approved the launch of six pilot free trade zones. The country plans to experiment with reforms streamlining regulatory requirements and opening up more of the economy to foreign investment, in line with policy decided at a state council executive meeting chaired by premier Li Keqiang in July 2019.

The meeting also identified cross-border e-commerce as an area where expansion is crucial, and to that end China will establish comprehensive pilot zones for e-commerce in additional locations.

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The Chinese government began running pilots for its reforms from the late 1980s and 1990s, in special economic zones such as Shenzhen. “Pilot free trade zones have set an example in streamlining regulatory requirements and expanding opening-up,” said Mr Li.

Provincial and municipal governments will be encouraged to delegate administrative authority to the free trade zones, especially regarding investment approval and market access. Reforms decoupling business licences and operation permits are to be fully implemented in all six pilot zones.

These measures follow the revised ‘negative list’ that took effect in July 30, 2019. This cut the number of restricted sectors in free trade zones from 45 to 37, resulting in broader market access for foreign investors in the manufacturing, mining and agriculture sectors.