Shanghai extends support to businesses

A key message was spelled out: Shanghai will pull out all the stops to roll out new measures to create a more business-friendly environment.

The Chinese New Year began with new hopes and expectations. Top leaders from the Shanghai municipal government gave shape to those expectations on the first working day after the Spring Festival holiday.

During a February 11 meeting chaired by mayor Ying Yong, a key message was spelled out: Shanghai will pull out all the stops to roll out new measures to create a more business-friendly environment.

“We should put the task of improving conditions for businesses at the forefront of our work,” said Li Qiang, Shanghai’s Party Secretary.

A raft of reform measures implemented last year has dramatically cut red tape and made it a lot easier for individuals to start a business and seek public services.

Among them, the most notable is an all-in-one online application system that makes it possible for prospective business owners to trim a lengthy process of securing approvals from multiple departments, obtaining business licenses and dealing with matters like taxation and employees’ social security payouts.

Under the new system, which waives or cuts short administrative approval procedures, applicants spend much less time in preparing the paperwork to be reviewed by the authorities.

Li called on civil servants and staff of other public organs to “go down” to serve businesses, hear their complaints and gather their feedback that could be used as a reference in the future.

‘Spirit of a waiter’

His catchphrase, “spirit of a waiter,” has become a buzzword as it captures the key to a change expected of many officials: They should serve the public and businesses with the same passion, diligence and humility as a waiter serves his or her customers. As a result of these efforts and resulting changes, Shanghai had helped China advance 32 spots to rank 46th in the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business report, an annual ranking of different economies on business regulations and ease of doing business.

That the country had made tremendous progress in the space of a single year underlines its determination to make the business sector feel more welcome.

China’s new reform and opening-up policies such as the scrapping of ownership limits for foreign investors in certain sectors, including finance, have strengthened the belief that a vibrant business sector is instrumental to China’s ongoing restructuring of its economy.

Li dropped hints that Shanghai’s ambition does not stop at ranking higher on any reports. Instead, it has set sights on higher goals.

One of the priorities Li highlighted at the meeting is to take the all-in-one online platform to the next level — ideally, to break down information silos between government agencies, formulate a protocol facilitating data-sharing and promote the integration of one-stop public services. Businesses and residents will stand to profit even more from these developments, he explained.

One of his proposals is to provide each business and resident with a customized account or “service page” under the all-in-one platform. By leveraging big data and other information technologies, the platform can automatically foresee potential needs of businesses and citizens and push precision-targeted, personalized services to the needy.

“Can this be done with the ease and convenience of shopping online?” Li asked. The answer may well be a “yes.” The technology is there, the resources are there, and most importantly, the political will is there to turn the vision into reality.

Shanghai’s quest to create a congenial environment for businesses and investors alike is an unrelenting race.

In response to the talk among some entrepreneurs and experts about an incoming economic “winter,” Li noted that Shanghai should be the first to “start a fire in the winter.” And a better business environment provides the indispensable fuel for that fire. Amid intensifying competition in the world, Shanghai is well-advised against competing solely on the creation of preferential policies, much less on factor costs like land or labor.

A most plausible, lasting and powerful strategy to stay ahead of the curve, it appears, is through the creation of more pro-business policies and regulations.

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