Guangdong governor Zhu Xiaodan said that the province had yet to submit a free-trade zone proposal to the State Council and pledged to accelerate its drafting process.
The proposed Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau free-trade zone has become a heated topic since Shanghai was awarded the right to operate a pilot free-trade zone that will operate in a more economically liberal environment under reform policies.
Yesterday was the first time that a top Guangdong official had revealed details regarding the status and progress of the proposal.
The free-trade zone's "general plan" was still being developed and would be submitted to the State Council as soon as possible, Zhu said at a press conference at the International Consultative Conference on the Future Economic Development of Guangdong Province, a meeting held every two years where foreign entrepreneurs and scientists offer advice to the governor.
"We have conducted an in-depth investigation and feasibility studies for more than six months over the free-trade zone's proposed site, size, position, tasks and policies.
"We have also conducted preliminary discussions with the Hong Kong and Macau special administrative governments and have widely consulted national ministries for advice," Zhu said.
"We pledge to deliver a practical and feasible action plan for the free-trade zone construction."
The Hong Kong Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said it was aware that Guangdong authorities were working on a proposal.
"We would be pleased to participate and plan jointly with Guangdong on the basis of achieving mutual benefits," a spokesman said. Since Shanghai's free-trade zone was officially established in September, Guangdong has stepped up its lobbying efforts for similar status.
Some mainland media outlets had speculated that Beijing would approve Guangdong's free-trade-zone bid after the third plenum, provided that the province could deliver a proposal that was sufficiently innovative and different from Shanghai's to win favour.
The governor also said that Guangdong's proposal would include streamlined government functions, decentralised administrative powers, improved market access and simplified procedures for company registration, customs and quarantine inspection.
Zhu said he believed that the free-trade zone would foster the implementation of Guangdong and Hong Kong's Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (Cepa). The free trade pact has been criticised because of its rigid rules for Hong Kong businesses to access mainland markets.
Zhu said that Guangdong had strived to become less reliant on exports since the global financial crisis of 2008. In 2007, exports comprised a third of Guangdong's gross domestic product. Last year, the figure had dropped to 1.9 per cent.
Additional reporting by Thomas Chan