Premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang has called on provincial leaders to break down internal market-access barriers during his first local inspection trip since becoming the Communist Party's No 2.
Speaking at a regional development forum in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, Li told top officials from six central provinces along the Yangtze to ditch any market barriers they have erected to protect favoured local enterprises and industries from domestic competitors.
The vice-premier, who is expected to succeed Premier Wen Jiabao in March, said opening up to domestic businesses was just as important as opening up to foreign firms, especially when it comes to increasing consumption at home. He cautioned that local protectionism was not the way forward.
"Administrative boundaries are not market territories," Li said on Friday, according to Xinhua. "Fair market competition will also create more jobs."
The forum was attended by officials from Anhui, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi and Sichuan provinces.
China has been looking to make domestic consumption its primary economic driver amid faltering investment and slumping exports.
A report released jointly by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences yesterday warned the country was losing its edge in traditional industrial exports in the face of rising labour costs and the bleak global economy.
Li, who was elevated to the second spot on the Politburo's supreme Standing Committee last month, urged the Yangtze-region provinces to improve regional transportation networks and better integrate their labour markets and social security systems - often major stumbling blocks for migrant workers.
Li said narrowing the development gap between more affluent coastal regions and poorer inland areas - as well as the wealth gap between urban and rural residents - could provide big development potential.
Li's trip was first reported by Caijing Magazine on the internet on Thursday, which was unusual because such trips are generally announced through state media.
Official sources carried their first reports on the visit yesterday.