Guangdong is Beijing's top priority to become China's next free-trade pilot zone after Shanghai, the Ministry of Commerce said yesterday.
"Setting up a free-trade zone trial in Guangdong is one of the major plans currently under consideration," said Gao Yan, deputy minister of commerce, in Beijing.
Gao's remarks follow a recent report that all applications to set up free-trade zones had been put on hold to cool the nationwide frenzy to compete for the special status, given some of the proposals were incomplete.
The report, in last month's issue of Xinhua's Outlook Weekly, cited a source close to the central authorities as saying that all free-trade zone proposals submitted by regional governments had been sent back for revision.
"I have never heard about stopping [all free-trade zone applications]. This is the first time I heard about this," said Gao, the first senior official from the commerce ministry to dismiss the report.
The magazine said that more than 20 local governments listed free-trade zone proposals in their annual work reports this year, with local officials lobbying various central authorities. Shanghai is the only mainland city so far to have received the green light to develop a free-trade zone.
Gao said the free-trade zone in Shanghai was a testing ground for innovative policies, and the experience of the trial could be copied and promoted nationwide.
The authorities' major focus at the moment was to analyse and draw conclusions from the experience in Shanghai before moving forward to the building of new free-trade zones, she said.
"After Shanghai, the government will consider location features and other foundational conditions to decide where and when to set up the next free-trade zone," she said.
Guangdong proposed the creation of a pilot plan encompassing Hong Kong, Macau and part of the province to foster economic ties with neighbouring regions, Governor Zhu Xiaodan said in April.
Unlike Shanghai's zone, with its international focus, Zhu said Guangdong's would focus solely on the Pearl River Delta area and was intended to transform and upgrade the region's economy from low-end manufacturing to high-end industries.