World Business

Beijing gets World Bank thumbs-up for its better business environment

The World Bank has endorsed China’s measures to improve its business environment for both foreign and private investors, granting the world’s second largest economy its highest ever ranking in the annual business environment survey.

China was one of the top 10 improvers in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019: Training for Reform report, which measures how easy it is to do business in different countries, released on Wednesday.

“China has made rapid progress in improving its business climate for domestic small and medium-sized enterprises in the past year,” Bert Hofman, World Bank country director for China, said.

“This progress, which now puts China among the top 50 economies in the world, signals the value the government places on nurturing entrepreneurship and private enterprise.”

According to the World Bank report, China’s ranking jumped to No 46, from No 78 last year, although it remains far behind other major economies for ease of doing business, including New Zealand at No 1, Hong Kong at No 4 and the United States at No 8.

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China’s rapid improvement in business conditions has followed loud complaints from foreign investors about rising business costs, the uneven playing field when competing with domestic firms in China, and a general lack of market access.

China’s home grown entrepreneurs had expressed their own objections about financing restraints and the still high corporate tax burden.

Beijing has worked hard to cut red tape and promised to widen market access to lure foreign investment. China’s foreign direct investment increased 2.9 per cent to US$97.8 billion in the first nine months, compared to the same period last year, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

China is now in the midst of a bitter trade war with the US, with nearly half of its US-bound exports – worth about US$250 billion – now subject to tariffs of 10 per cent to 25 per cent.

The unresolved and potentially escalating tension has greatly dampened the domestic economy and market sentiment, with the third quarter growth rate falling to a decade low and the A-share index the worst performer among major economies so far this year.

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In its meeting on Wednesday, the Politburo, China’s top decision-making body chaired by President Xi Jinping, acknowledged “growing downward pressure” on the economy amid external uncertainties, and again promised to take steps to stabilise the economy, investment, finance, employment and expectations.

Xi will host the country’s first-ever import fair in Shanghai this weekend, and will deliver a keynote address on Monday. Meanwhile, Premier Li Keqiang is due to meet heads of major international institutions, including IMF managing director Christine Lagarde and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, in Beijing next week.

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The World Bank attributed the rapid improvement in China’s business environment to a significant number of successfully implemented reforms.

For instance, the time and cost of trading across borders was reduced by eliminating administrative charges, increasing transparency and encouraging competition. The cost of moving goods across the Chinese border was more than halved.

Also, China remains one of the best economies in the world in which to resolve a commercial dispute. It takes 496 days and costs 16 per cent of the value of the claim, far better than the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development high income country average of 582 days and 21 per cent.

However, the World Bank suggested China could do better in areas like the granting of construction permits.

Currently, a business needs to complete 20 procedures to obtain all the permits and authorisations necessary to build a warehouse in China, compared with an average of 15 procedures in the East Asia and Pacific region countries.

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