Beijing is fast-tracking its market opening beyond what was originally agreed under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) accession deal, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation announced yesterday. In a Xinhua report, the ministry announced that foreign shipping and delivery companies would be allowed to take a stake of up to 75 per cent in a Chinese-foreign joint venture, up from a previous 50 per cent limit. By 2006, foreign shipping firms will be allowed to form 100 per cent wholly owned operations. However, ministry officials said Beijing was accelerating the opening of the entire services sector to foreign investors. 'China wants to open up the services sector further,' said Yu Weixiang, a research fellow at the ministry's WTO research centre. 'In fact, we are opening up the entire services sector far faster than what we agreed to under the WTO.' The changes, effective immediately, include allowing foreign advertising firms to form wholly owned operations by 2005, up from a previous 50 per cent limit, and allowing foreign general insurers to own 100 per cent of mainland operations by 2004, also up from a 50 per cent limit. In addition, by 2005 foreign general insurers will no longer face geographic restrictions. The lifting of restrictions on the services sector goes hand in hand with proposals that will allow foreign institutional investors to buy into Chinese listed companies as early as later this year. The Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor Law will allow foreign investors to buy shares directly from China's securities markets. 'We must enact market reforms faster,' said Ms Yu. 'If we don't change, we will suffer. Foreign investors can help raise the standards in China.'