China speeds up construction of Hainan Free Trade Port

The island province of Hainan was once a backwater of fisherfolk and poor farmers, but now, it is a vivid example of China's high-level opening-up.

When Lin Guangming came to south China's Hainan Province in late 2020, he was fascinated by the rich opportunities offered by the fledgling Hainan Free Trade Port (FTP).

Lin, 42, is an overseas Chinese with Singaporean citizenship. He currently serves as the chief planner for the Yangpu Economic Development Zone management committee. Yangpu Economic Development Zone in Danzhou, a city in the northwestern part of Hainan, is a pioneer and demonstration area for the Hainan FTP.

"Hainan's free trade port policy is open enough to attract foreign talents to work in Hainan and Yangpu," Lin said.

Lin is among the talents coming to Hainan to seek opportunities as the construction of the FTP picks up speed.

The island province of Hainan was once a backwater of fisherfolk and poor farmers, but now, it is a vivid example of China's high-level opening-up.

Since the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress in 2012, Hainan has hosted a series of diplomatic, economic, and cultural gatherings, which greatly raised the island's profile and exposed the province to the very latest in business practices and pioneering services.

In 2020, China released a master plan to build the whole of Hainan Island into a globally influential and high-level free trade port by the middle of the century. Since then, a slew of favorable policies have been issued to support the development of the Hainan FTP, including zero tariffs and easing market and foreign investment access.

Steady progress

In the past few years, major sectors in Hainan have seen steady development thanks to a variety of policies. One of them is consumption.

In the Sanya International Duty-Free City in Haitang Bay, Sanya, visitor Chen Yingying was waiting in line to bring home some duty-free products.

"I think it's great, because there are many different types of brands, and the prices are quite reasonable," she said.

On July 1, 2020, Hainan raised its annual tax-free shopping quota from 30,000 yuan (US$4,443) to 100,000 yuan per person.

As part of the core policies of the construction of Hainan FTP, the new policy in duty-free shopping has made consumers more willing to spend than ever before.

Official data showed that from July 1, 2020, to the end of June this year, Haikou Customs counted 90.6 billion yuan in offshore duty-free product sales, with 125 million items sold.

The duty-free shopping on the island could well boost the domestic consumption, and connect Hainan with the international market, according to Chi Fulin, head of the Hainan-based China Institute for Reform and Development.

Duty-free shopping is only part of the broader Hainan FTP development picture.

Steady progress has been made in building Hainan into an FTP, according to a press conference of the CPC Hainan Provincial Committee in July.

The number of registered market entities in Hainan has increased from less than 310,000 in 2013 to more than 1.98 million, with the growth rate ranking first in the country for 28 consecutive months.

Shen Xiaoming, Party chief of Hainan, said that over the past two years, over 180 policies and measures have taken effect in Hainan to facilitate trade and investment.

One of the companies benefiting from these policies is AUSCA International Oils and Grains Co., Ltd., which operates Hainan's first grain and oil processing project with an annual output of 1 million tons.

"The favorable policies in the Hainan FTP and Yangpu have given us incredible business opportunities," said Zhang Hui, chairperson of the company, located within the Yangpu bonded harbor under the Yangpu Economic Development Zone. "I think I made the right decision to come to Yangpu."

According to Shen Xiaoming, the average annual growth rate of new market entities in Hainan in recent years has reached 40 percent. Meanwhile, the actual utilization of foreign investment in Hainan grew at an average annual rate of 80 percent, and the number of foreign enterprises introduced on the island grew at an average annual rate of nearly 120 percent.

Huge potential

"The construction of the Hainan FTP means a huge opportunity for foreign companies," said Stefano Fedi, from Italy. Stefano established a fashion consultancy company in Hainan in 2018.

The favorable business environment brought about by deepening reform and opening-up has increased Hainan's attractiveness to talents and investment. Since 2018, Hainan has introduced more than 400,000 highly skilled personnel, an increase of nearly 10 times compared with the previous four years.

Hainan's economic transformation and upgrading have also achieved remarkable results over the past two years. Tourism, modern services, high-tech, and high-efficiency agriculture with tropical characteristics have become the four leading industries on the island.

"Hainan will actively meet the international high-standard economic and trade rules, promote institutional opening-up, continuously improve trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, and open up to the outside world in a wider scope, in more fields and at a deeper level," said Cui Jian, deputy head of the provincial department of commerce.

The construction of the first batch of nine projects related to independent customs operations throughout Hainan island began in July. The projects, with a total investment of 1.42 billion yuan, are located in the cities of Haikou, Sanya, Wenchang, Qionghai, Dongfang, and Chengmai.

Hainan will finish building all the necessary infrastructure for independent customs operations by 2023 and will realize independent customs operations throughout the whole island by the end of 2025.

Lin Guangming, the Singaporean chief planner for the Yangpu Economic Development Zone management committee, has brought his family to the island province. He has big plans for the future in Hainan.

"It is my personal mission to help transfer Singapore's philosophy and best practices in urban planning to Chinese cities and now with a focus in Hainan Yangpu, which is still in its infancy stage," he said. "There will be a huge potential for this place and for professionals."

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