China will grant more power to pilot free trade zones and explore the opening of free trade ports, according to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October.
A dozen Chinese municipalities and provinces, including Shaanxi, Henan, Zhejiang, Tianjin, Guangdong and Sichuan, are already at the forefront of attempts to build free trade ports.
By operating a free trade port, the China (Zhejiang) Pilot Free Trade Zone is banking on developing bulk commodity trade and high-end manufacturing to drive growth as it races to catch up with more established rivals such as Singapore and Hong Kong in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Zhejiang FTZ has developed a plan for a free port within the zone to further promote commodity trade liberalization and improve global commodity allocation, with the whole industry chain of oil products as the core.
"The world's major free trade centers, such as Dubai and New York, are all defining themselves as international free ports or global logistics centers, because this practice is an effective way to drive regional growth in the trade, finance and service sectors," said Zhou Weijiang, deputy director of the Zhejiang FTZ's administrative committee.
The building of free trade ports in China is at the exploration stage and should be developed step by step, from ports along the coast and rivers to airports and dry ports in inland areas, says Bai Ming, deputy director of the International Market Research Institute of the Ministry of Commerce.
Free trade ports should be close to major transportation hubs and economic hinterlands, gathering high-tech and high-level talent from all over the world, says Xue Rongjiu, deputy director of the Beijing-based China Society for WTO Studies.
He says free trade ports need to be supported by a strong government, a market-oriented and highly efficient operation and a completely internationalized service system. They should become areas with the best business environment in the world.
Xue also says that "reform in free trade zones will be strengthened and some reform experiences from the pilot areas are expected to be further promoted all over China".
Gao Feng, spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, says the ministry will continue to promote reform this year in FTZs, reduce the negative list of foreign investment in pilot FTZs, improve the quality of FTZ development and promote more specific and systematic reform experiences nationwide.