By Xinhua Writer Zuo Wei
BEIJING, March 6 (Xinhua) -- Five months after the establishment of the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone (FTZ) in the bustling coastal metropolis, it seems that the dust has settled for what comes next.
"We will ensure the successful building and management of the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone so that this model can be copied and extended, and we will launch a number of new trials," Premier Li Keqiang said in his government work report on Wednesday.
It is the first time that the central government has confirmed that new trial free trade zones will be carried out outside of Shanghai.
China launched the Shanghai FTZ in September 2013 to test a broad range of economic reforms, especially those in the financial sector, in anticipation that these experiments could eventually be duplicated in other parts of the country.
Lured by better trade, investment and administrative rules, about 100 companies have rushed to register in the zone each day in past months, according to data from the management committee of the FTZ.
"Reform and opening up won't be confined to one place only. The spillover effect of the FTZ is taking shape," said Zhou Hanmin, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and a promoter of the FTZs.
The replication of one successful pilot reform in many places across the country has been a common strategy in China's reform and opening up drive. The model of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, founded in 1980, has been cloned along the entire east coast over the past three decades.
Media have reported that cities, including Tianjin, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Xiamen, are now striving to become the next Shanghai. Huang Xingguo, mayor of Tianjin, said Wednesday that a plan to build an FTZ in the coastal municipality is ready for the State Council's review.
Zhou Hanmin said the premier's wording of "a number of new trials" implied the government has taken into account the capacity and tolerance of the market for embracing more reforms.
"It also tallies with a bigger trend in China to deepen comprehensive reform," he added.
From March 1, China began a nationwide overhaul of the business registration system, which includes abolishing the threshold for corporate registered capital. It was encouraged by the same reform piloted in the Shanghai FTZ in late September.
At a panel discussion on the sidelines of this year's CPPCC annual session, Wang Xinkui, one of the planners for the Shanghai FTZ, suggested setting up more FTZs in key cities as soon as possible and encouraged research on how to expand each pilot zone.
The latest experiment in the Shanghai FTZ came just a few days before the CPPCC National Committee convened its annual session. The central bank announced in late February that interest rate ceilings on smaller foreign-currency deposits in the zone would be removed starting in March.
Foreign firms may be happy about the news that they will face fewer barriers to entry in the year ahead.
Han Zheng, mayor of Shanghai, said the "negative list" identifying bans or restrictions on foreign investment in the FTZ will be made shorter in its 2014 update.
For foreigners seeking China gold, the FTZ means more of an opportunity than a challenge.
"It's a good thing that China opens up its trade zones more," said Irish sales manager Niall Bryson, who is trying his luck in an entrepreneurship program to help foreigners start businesses.
"The FTZ brings more business opportunities for people around the world, and obviously for me," Bryson said.
(Xinhua correspondents Xu Xiaoqing, Li Kun and Li Yunlu contributed to this report.)