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China launched its Free Trade Zone (FTZ) Program in 2013 to accelerate the country’s reform and opening up. There are now 12 Free Trade Zones with the most recent and largest being Hainan FTZestablished in April 2018.
While FTZs are relatively new, the principle of a zonal based approach to economic development in China is not. Ever since Deng Xiaoping began to liberalize the economy in 1978, zones have served as important test beds for economic reform before being rolled out more widely. FTZs are the latest – and most ambitious – iteration of this zonal based approach, and President Xi Jinping has reiterated their continued importance.
Some foreign governments argue that China does not need FTZs given the maturity of its economy and that instead preferential policies should be rolled out nationally. But the reality is that China’s FTZ program is here to stay. China has no intention to change its incremental approach to development; so our advice is to properly understand the value proposition of China’s FTZs.