Give Chinese greater access to foreign consumer goods, Premier Li Keqiang says

Consumers deserve more options, premier says, as people get richer and want better lives

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 November, 2015, 12:05am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 November, 2015, 5:32am

Premier Li Keqiang said on Thursday the government should not restrict mainlanders' overseas purchases but provide them with even greater freedom in what they buy.

Consumer spending overseas has grown rapidly in recent years, fuelled by a rising demand for high-quality products and services from around the world.

"Chinese people are getting rich and they want to live a better life," Li said at a State Council meeting on Wednesday.

Beijing should "not place restrictions on their purchasing overseas or even shut out the world. We should give our consumers more options". But at the same time the mainland needed to strengthen domestic consumption, he added.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Commerce, mainland tourists made more than 100 million visits to other countries and regions last year, and overseas spending exceeded 1 trillion yuan (HK$1.22 trillion). Mainlanders are also turning in greater force to buying imported goods through e-commerce channels.

The Alibaba Group said a third of the people shopping on its platforms on Singles Day on Wednesday were buying items from overseas.

The company said sales on Wednesday's "double 11" day hit 91.2 billion yuan.

Despite rising demand, the path for foreign goods to get to the door of Chinese consumers is not always smooth.

In recent months, customs has come under fire as shoppers who ordered goods from abroad complained of a tightening inspection of parcels.

Read more: Singles Day shopping spree sees sales soar 60pc to 91 billion yuan, raising hope that online sector will boost China's slowing economy

Some said their packages were held up for more than a month, while others said officers had asked them to pay taxes or even return the goods.

The General Administration of Customs said it had not adopted any special measures in dealing with international parcels.

Zhao Ping, a former researcher with the Ministry of Commerce, said the central government should make it more convenient for people to buy foreign goods. "Currently, China's foreign currency authority only allows people to exchange up to US$50,000 from local banks every year. This is far from enough for the country's cross-border e-commerce operators who have been dealing with transactions worth millions of dollars every day," Zhao said.

In recent years, the government has been taking measures aimed at keeping people's spending at home.

In June, it announced that it would lower import tariffs by an average of half on clothing, shoes, skin-care products and diapers in an effort to cater to local people's rising demand for foreign goods.

Read more: More mainlanders head overseas to spend golden week

But the new measures are considered of little help as the consumption tax and value-added tax usually account for a larger slice of the final retail price for imported goods.

The nation is also planning to build more duty-free shops at mainland airports, introduce more categories of permissible goods and raise the cap on tax allowances.

"We must open our door wider," Li said.

"Otherwise, many traditional enterprises would not be willing to change their mindset. They would have no idea about what people's new demands are and cannot provide new supply to adapt to the market."