Coface Group, one of the world's largest export credit insurance companies, has set up a subsidiary in Shanghai as a first step in its entry to the China market. The French insurer joined a wave of foreign insurers seeking a foothold in China before its World Trade Organisation entry. Coface China will report to the group's Hong Kong branch, which was set up in 1999. Xavier Farcot, deputy general manager of Coface Hong Kong, said the Shanghai subsidiary would not underwrite any insurance business in the near term as it did not yet have a licence. He said Coface China would offer an online credit-rating service, @rating Solution, for mainland companies to obtain information on buyers. Coface would give ratings based on a buyer's financial strength. Francois David, chairman and chief executive of Coface, said: 'We are launching @rating now because it coincides with China's entry into the WTO . . . we are in the right place at the right time.' He said the rating service would help small- and medium-sized mainland enterprises gain a better knowledge of their buyers. This would be useful for companies seeking to expand their exports business and would enhance their international competitiveness, Mr David said.