China approves three more free-trade zones in Guangdong, Fujian provinces and Tianjin

SHANGHAI (AFP) - China has been given the go-ahead for three more free-trade zones (FTZs), state media reported, despite the country's first project in Shanghai proving disappointing 18 months after its establishment.

A meeting of the Communist Party's politburo hosted by President Xi Jinping on Tuesday approved zones in the southern province of Guangdong, eastern province of Fujian and northern city of Tianjin, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

China's Commerce Ministry had already announced in December that three FTZs would be set up in those locations.

State media have said the Guangdong FTZ aims to speed economic integration with neighbouring Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China. The Fujian zone is focussed on Taiwan, which China considers part of its sovereign territory. The Tianjin FTZ is part of a push to better integrate the city with nearby Beijing and Hebei province.

Media reports originally gave March 1 as the official opening date for all three, but that deadline passed. Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper later reported that the Guangdong FTZ would launch on March 18, but no opening was announced.

A statement from the politburo said the establishment of FTZs aimed to "deepen reform" and "expand opening up to explore new approaches", adding the Shanghai zone had shown "positive progress" since its founding, according to Xinhua.

The Chinese commercial hub set up its FTZ in September 2013, promising a range of financial reforms, including full convertibility of the yuan currency and free interest rates, but they remain unfulfilled.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said this month that 73 per cent of the 377 companies responding to its annual business climate survey said the FTZ offers "no tangible benefits" for them.

A former top official of the Shanghai FTZ, executive deputy director Dai Haibo, is now under investigation for violating the law, authorities said earlier this month, but gave no details.