China unveils plan for Hainan free trade zone, says effort unprecedented

A job fair at the Human Resources Development Bureau of Hainan province. Chinese President Xi Jinping had said in April 2018 that China would set up a free trade pilot zone and build an international free trade port in Hainan. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China on Tuesday (Oct 16) granted the southern province of Hainan free trade zone (FTZ) status, vowing to significantly ease restrictions on foreign investment on the island in sectors from agriculture to medical services.

Known for its sandy beaches and resort-lined coast, Hainan is the headquarters of China's aviation-to-financial services conglomerate HNA.

President Xi Jinping first said in April China would set up a free-trade pilot zone and build an international free trade port in Hainan.

Spanning 35,400 sq km, the Hainan FTZ would be much bigger than China's eleven existing FTZs, which are only 120 sq km each, Vice-Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen told a news conference.

Its size "reflects China's determination and confidence to further open up to the outside world", Mr Wang said, adding about 40 per cent of the measures introduced would be unique to Hainan.

The Hainan FTZ would seek to increase "openness" in sectors including seed production, tourism, medical care, aviation, and new energy vehicle manufacturing, aiming to "significantly relax the access to foreign capital", according to a notice released by the state Cabinet on the government's official website.

The Cabinet did not mention gambling or casinos in its notice.

The government aims to make "significant progress" in the development of the plan by 2020, despite challenges facing the region such as a shortage in talent, said Hainan vice-governor Shen Danyang.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.