China's new FTZ attracts 38 overseas firms: government

SHANGHAI - China's new free-trade zone has drawn just 38 overseas firms in its first two months of operations, officials said Thursday, as foreign companies await concrete policies and deeper reforms.

Authorities set up the FTZ in the commercial city of Shanghai in late September with pledges of reform, including free convertibility of the yuan currency.

But a lengthy "negative list" of what is barred in the zone and an open-ended deadline to introduce financial reforms have made foreign firms hesitant to set up there, analysts say.

The 38 overseas companies newly established in the FTZ had total registered capital of $560 million, figures released on Thursday showed.

More than one-third of the companies - 14 - are from Hong Kong, an autonomous region of China whose firms are counted as being from overseas.

There also six firms from the United States, six from Japan and four from Singapore.

The number of foreign firms is a fraction of the total 1,434 companies so far registered in the FTZ.

But Shanghai officials said it was too soon to make a judgement as the FTZ had only recently been launched.

"I currently don't sense that there is a feeling of disappointment," said Ai Baojun, Shanghai vice mayor and head of the government agency managing the FTZ.

"We can say there are hopes for quicker introduction of details," he said.

The FTZ is making preparations to introduce key financial reforms, including free capital flows and interest rate liberalisation, he added, but gave no timetable.

As well as the 38 to have formally set up, another 67 foreign firms had applications under consideration, officials said.

"It's a normal process. You can't use a short-term statistic to evaluate this issue and form a grand notion," said Dai Haibo, deputy head of the FTZ's management committee.

The tally does not take into account 12 foreign bank branches that have been approved to set up in the FTZ, including Britain's HSBC and Citibank of the United States.

Dai denied that many of the 1,396 domestic firms now in the FTZ were shell companies, lacking true business operations and set up by investors hoping to get an early foothold, as reported by Chinese media.