On the day of their wedding ceremony, Zhou Yichen and Meng Jiakang welcomed their first “baby” — a trade company registered in the free trade zone (FTZ) of northeast China’s Liaoning Province.
Zhou, a native of Liaoning’s Yingkou City, met his bride at university in Singapore. After graduation, they worked in Singapore until the ceremony in Zhou’s hometown.
After the wedding, they toured the FTZ service center in Yingkou, which offers a streamlined application process and cross-border yuan trade settlement — strong draws for the newlyweds.
“We just decided to register a company named after us, and the business license was obtained in only half an hour,” said Meng, the bride.
Zhou found a QR code on the new business license, which led to a big data service platform and online government department services.
China announced its third group of FTZs last April — in Liaoning, Zhejiang, Henan, Hubei, Chongqing, Sichuan and Shaanxi — bringing the total number of FTZs to 11.
FTZs are areas that enjoy preferential policies, easier customs clearance, favorable taxes and simpler business applications.
Liaoning was among the first regions in China to be industrialized, and it has relied largely on heavy industry, energy resources and a large number of state-owned enterprises.
However, the investment environment in northeast China was daunting, largely because of high costs and low efficiency caused by government bureaucracy.
According to a popular saying, “investment does not go beyond Shanhaiguan Pass,” referring to a traditional geographical division separating the northeastern region from the rest of China.
While the central government has rolled out measures to revitalize the old traditional base, the Liaoning FTZ has served as a testing ground to cut bureaucracy and increase government efficiency.
Over the past year, Yingkou City has combined 46 required business certificates into one, enabling applicants to clear all procedures within two days. It used to take 50 days for a business to be approved for operation.
A circular on reforming official management issued by the city put forward a performance evaluation for officials within the FTZ. Those with lazy administration will be removed from their posts, according to the circular.
“A good working attitude among officials is the best contributor to a good business environment,” said Zhang Dong, executive deputy director of the Yingkou area administration of the Liaoning FTZ.
In Shenyang, the provincial capital, enterprises with registered capital above 100 million yuan (15.8 million U.S. dollars) will enjoy a “green path” in which government workers will perform all required procedures for them free of charge. After-work and reserved on-call services are also offered.
“We are just ‘waiters’ that should serve the businesses well,” said Wang Enbin, deputy director of the Liaoning FTZ office.
Wang said 24,000 new businesses were registered in the FTZ over the past year, meaning 68 companies were set up on average every day. Total registered capital reached 362 billion yuan.
FTZs often serve as experimental zones where measures are tested before being implemented nationwide.
Amid national efforts to forge good government-business relationships and simplify administrative procedures, measures that prove feasible in FTZs may also be adopted nationwide.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said last month China will continue to streamline administration and delegate power to improve the business environment and stimulate market vitality.
“We will cut the time it takes to open a business in China by another half, and we will reduce the time required for reviewing a project application by another half,” Li said at a press conference after the conclusion of the annual legislative session.