Eight more licences have been granted to European insurance companies by Beijing in the wake of China's successful talks on entry into the World Trade Organisation. The decision by the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) continues the opening up of what will one day be the largest insurance market in the world. The licences allow the companies to form joint ventures with mainland partners in key cities. The conditions of the licences will be relaxed after China's entry to the WTO. Beijing will allow effective management control in life-insurance joint ventures, in which foreigners are limited to 50 per cent stakes at present. According to a mainland insurance newspaper, Allianz and Gerling groups of Germany and Zurich Financial Services of Switzerland have been granted licences for property and casualty insurance, while Transamerica - acquired by Aegon of the Netherlands last year - Britain's Commercial General and Norwich Union and CNP Assurance of France have been awarded life insurance licences. Two incumbent EU insurers - AXA of France and Royal & Sun Alliance of Britain - have been awarded additional licences to expand their operations. The only EU insurer whose application failed was Standard Life Assurance of Britain. 'We are disappointed to be the only one left out,' said Robert Knight, chief executive of Standard Life (Asia), the local arm of the British insurer. Standard Life Assurance has been setting up representative offices in leading Chinese cities since 1997. It was qualified to apply for licences under CIRC regulations which require foreign insurance companies to establish their presence in China before they can obtain approval to launch large-scale operations. Mr Knight said the insurer would wait for the next round of applications to enter the mainland market, although the timetable was unknown. Foreign insurers have been eyeing the mainland market keenly, even though their operations are still under stringent control. China will phase out geographical restrictions on foreign insurance companies in three years. It will allow them into group and health insurance and pensions over five years and permit wholly owned non-life subsidiaries in two years. EU insurers have been lobbying the Chinese Government to abolish restrictions now, because it has given American International Group, a long-established foreign insurer in China, the right to run wholly owned life-insurance subsidiaries. Given the sheer size of China's 1.3 billion population and a relatively untapped market for insurance products, the sector is expected to become the largest in the world.