THE economy of the northern part of Jiangsu looks set for a lift as the provincial government strives to narrow the gap between the richer south and the poorer north. The north is expected to be allocated a slightly bigger government fund and loan quota, according to provincial and municipal government officials. One of the fastest-growing provinces, Jiangsu ranked second in terms of gross domestic product growth last year with an 18.5 per cent rise to 405 billion yuan (about HK$376.57 billion). The northern part of the province lagged behind the south in economic development due to a variety of geographical, human and historical factors. Liu Rukun, chief of the general planning division of the province's Commission of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade, said the northern region would be encouraged to use more foreign capital and loans in its development. 'The southern and northern regions should be developed together,' he said. 'During the Ninth Five-Year Plan [1996-2000], we have to give special emphasis on the development of the northern part of Jiangsu, while the southern part should continue to flourish.' Greater stress would be placed on infrastructure development such as the Ninglian grade one highway linking the provincial capital Nanjing with Lianyungang, a coastal port in the north of the province. Another focus would include foreign exchange-making agricultural industry and the development of coastal areas. The provincial government would strive to facilitate the growth of the northern part by opening up those regions. This would include granting import and export rights to more enterprises in the northern regions. Mr Liu said there had been obvious improvement in the province's economy after it had gained greater exposure to the international market. The province would be further opened up in the next five to 15 years or so, with the economy growing more and more in line with international practices and standards. There would be a shift towards more hi-tech, high value-added and export-oriented industries. Textiles, light industry, machine-building, electronics, petrochemical and building materials were the pillar industries of the province. The coming five-year plan would mean the province would need an estimated US$90 billion in fixed-asset investment with one-third coming from overseas, Mr Liu said. By the end of the century, foreign exports were expected to jump 100 per cent to more than US$20 billion. The actual utilised foreign capital and the amount for foreign engineering project contracting and labour services were expected to double.