Shanghai free-trade zone

Qianhai bypassed as firms head for Shanghai Free-trade Zone

New free-trade zone attracts ventures planned for Shenzhen base, raising concern in HK

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 October, 2013, 10:58am

Qianhai first, Hong Kong next?

While Hong Kong officials have been concerned about the impact of Shanghai's free-trade zone, it seems it is already stealing business from Qianhai.

Financial industry sources said several domestic and global firms that had originally planned to set up shop in Qianhai - the smaller special economic zone only an hour's drive from Hong Kong - were seriously considering the 29 square kilometre free-trade zone in Shanghai instead. China Taiping Life Insurance, one of the mainland's biggest and oldest life insurers, and China Petroleum & Chemical Corp (Sinopec) are among the firms rethinking their options.

The sources, who asked not to be named, said the two companies originally planned to set up a pension fund management joint venture in Qianhai but later decided to base it in the new Shanghai zone, which was officially launched on Sunday.

"The Shanghai free-trade zone has definitely attracted more attention than Qianhai from the financial industry mainly because people believe Shanghai gets far more high-level support and wider policy coverage than Qianhai," said one of the sources.

"The impact of Shanghai will be felt in the whole of China or even the rest of the world, but Qianhai's impact will be limited to Hong Kong-related businesses."

Senior executives at Taiping Life and Sinopec had several rounds of meetings with Qianhai officials, who invited them to pick Qianhai as home for their new ventures.

According to the sources, Qianhai officials recently told them the two companies might not be in a rush to set up their ventures there as they believed Shanghai would offer a more open business environment and wider industry access.

Just about a year ago, Qianhai, the 15 square kilometre special economic zone in Shenzhen, was named by the central bank as the testing ground for full yuan convertibility. Qianhai officials and the central bank have said Qianhai would focus on its financial ties with Hong Kong, which is already the biggest offshore yuan centre.

The creation of the free-trade zone in Shanghai has already led to questions about how different it would be from Qianhai as both the zones are to experiment with yuan-related reforms.

Analysts have also been wondering just how free the new Shanghai zone would be. On Monday, the government issued a "negative list" of sectors, including media and publishing and gambling, in which foreign entities will not be allowed to participate.

With the launch of the free-trade zone in Shanghai, which ANZ China chief economist Liu Ligang said would be "just another offshore yuan trading centre after Hong Kong that will compete with Hong Kong in some aspects", some analysts, investors and Hong Kong politicians have been getting increasingly concerned that Hong Kong's leading role in the region's financial industry may be undercut.