Hainan sets to bring global benefits as free trade port

File photo: CFP

As comprehensive reforms are being deepened and high-level opening-up policies are being put in place, China's southern island province of Hainan is transforming itself into a free trade port for the world.

China last June released a master plan to build the island into a globally influential and high-level free trade port by the middle of the century. The ongoing China International Consumer Products Expo (CICPE) is the latest testament to China's opening-up commitment.

The CICPE, a new annual expo at the national level and the first international expo on the island, has attracted 648 companies and more than 1,300 brands from 69 countries and regions. More than 200,000 visitors from home and abroad are expected over the four-day event.

Running from May 7 to May 10, the expo covers 80,000 square meters, including 60,000 square meters of international exhibition space featuring products including cosmetics, automobiles, yachts and clothing.

The Chinese government has held an open attitude through the expo, which will greatly promote economic and trade globalization, said Kazunori Tokura, executive vice president of Omron Healthcare (China). He added that the Hainan free trade port can promote more global trade exchanges, which is of great help to accelerating the introduction of Omron's foreign products to China.

With a total population of over 1.4 billion and more than 400 million middle-income residents, China has become the world's most promising consumer market.

Official data shows that despite the impact of COVID-19 last year, China's imports of consumer products rose by 8.2 percent year on year to 1.57 trillion yuan (about 241.9 billion U.S. dollars).

Hainan could become the world's biggest duty-free market at current growth rates, according to a joint KPMG/Moodie Davitt white paper on Hainan released on Friday.

"While traditional sector hotspots saw their sales plummet, Hainan's duty-free revenues soared like an eagle to around 5 billion U.S. dollars," read the paper, highlighting the triumph of a pro-business, pro-consumer, pro-Hainan policy that has succeeded beyond all expectations.

Hainan has implemented policies such as visa-free entry, offshore duty-free shopping and a tax-exempt imports list. Many exhibitors said that a series of preferential policies had provided a good channel for overseas brands to enter the Chinese market.

Paolo Bazzoni, chairman of the China-Italy Chamber of Commerce, said the expo will definitely push the domestic consumption of quality goods and, at the same time, let the world know that China is recovering from the pandemic and ready to lead quality retailing.

As the broader economy continues to recover on firm footing, China's retail sales of consumer goods, a major indicator of consumption strength, picked up further. In the first quarter, its retail sales increased by 33.9 percent year on year to 10.5 trillion yuan.

"By holding the expo, we will give further play to the policy advantages of the Hainan free trade port, effectively promote the accumulation of high-end goods, capital, talent and other resources, and vigorously promote the development of the services sector, such as exhibitions, modern logistics, commerce and trade, and circulation and design," said Rong Yansong, deputy director of the Hainan provincial department of commerce.

From an underdeveloped frontier outpost before the 1980s to the country's youngest province and largest special economic zone by 1988, Hainan is the epitome of China's opening-up. Since it assumed its new role as a free trade port, pioneering policies facilitating free and convenient trade in goods and services have been rolled out one after another.

The island is actively improving its domestic and international connectivity. According to its government plan, the number of domestic and foreign air routes will be increased to 646 during the 2021-2025 period, reaching 200 cities worldwide with a passenger throughput of 60 million.

Twenty more domestic and foreign trade routes will be opened, reaching 100 ports around the world and with a cargo throughput of 266 million tonnes, an increase of 20 percent during the five-year period.

After the island is closed and operating as a free trade port in 2025, Hainan is expected to become a paradise for global tourists, merchants and investors.

"The appeal of the expo shows the effectiveness of the opening policy of the Hainan free trade port and the optimization of its business environment," said Fabrice Megarbane, president and CEO of L'Oreal China. "Relying on the expo to develop the tourism retail market in Hainan will further release the consumption potential of China."