Some of China's oil and gas facilities. Photo: Zhejiang Pilot Free Trade Zone

China has unveiled new, shortened negative lists for foreign investment, as part of efforts to further open up the economy and improve its business environment amid the novel coronavirus epidemic.

The number of sectors that are off-limits for foreign investors will be cut to 33 in the 2020 version of the negative list from 40 in the 2019 version, according to a statement jointly released by the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Commerce.

China also unveiled its 2020 negative lists for foreign investment in pilot free trade zones, cutting the number of prohibited industries to 30 from 37. The two new negative lists will take effect on July 23.

According to the new lists, foreign ownership caps on securities, fund management, futures, life insurance companies, as well as commercial vehicle enterprises, will be removed. Ownership by foreign investors in wheat breeding and seed production can be raised to up to 66%.

Foreign investors will be allowed to invest in sectors including prepared slices of traditional Chinese medicine, the smelting and processing of radioactive minerals and the production of nuclear fuel.

In the area of infrastructure industry, foreign investors will be allowed to take majority shares in joint ventures that engage in the building and operation of water supply and drainage networks in cities with a population of more than 500,000.

In education, wholly foreign-owned institutions for vocational education will be allowed.

Reducing red tape

China will work to further shorten the time required for starting a business and better regulate the charges on businesses from industry bodies and associations, in an effort to lessen corporate burdens and spur their vitality.

In a meeting of the State Council, Premier Li Keqiang highlighted the need for transforming government functions and improving the business climate as key steps in China’s reform and opening up, and major reform measures in properly handling the relations between the government and the market. These reforms must be persistently pushed forward.

The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 released in October 2019 ranked China 27th in ease of starting a business among 190 economies, up by 66 spots from two years ago.

“Facing the mounting economic challenges, we need both fiscal policy measures and deeper reform of government functions for a more enabling business environment to effectively support market players. This way, we can spur greater market vitality,” Li said.

The procedures and services for starting businesses will be optimized. A unified online platform for accessing these services will be established in every province by the end of this year, where applications can be filed online in a single form. And once approved, related documents can be collected at one single venue.

With strict oversight and security protection put in place, electronic business licenses will be promoted, as a legal and valid identification and means of e-signature for online business registration, tax-related services and opening of bank accounts.

Efforts will be made toward reducing the time required for starting a new business, from five working days to no more than four.

Foreign trade firms

Chinese authorities have announced the extension of fee cuts and exemptions for import and export enterprises to stabilize the foreign trade sector amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The preferential policies, including waiving port construction fees levied on importers and exporters and halving oil-pollution damage compensation for ships, will be extended to December 31, 2020, according to a circular jointly issued by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Transport.

The move aims to help enterprises tide over difficulties and advance the development of foreign trade during the epidemic-containment period, the circular said.

Geely Automobile

Geely Automobile said its board of directors had approved the preliminary plan of issuing yuan shares and listing on the Science and Technology Board.

The company said the listing plan was subject to and limited by, among other things, market conditions, shareholders’ approval at the extraordinary general meeting and necessary regulatory approval.

New funds will be used in research and development projects and as supplementary working capital.

The story was written by Xu Jiangshan and first published at It was translated by Nadeem Xu.

Xu Yuenai is a Beijing-based columnist specializing in international relations.