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State planners relax outward investment rules

China is amending a regulation on the management of outward direct investment aimed at significantly relaxing the approval process and shifting the management mechanism from approvals toward a registration-oriented one, an official source said.

Economic Information Daily, a newspaper under Xinhua News Agency, citing an unnamed but “official source”, said Wednesday that the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s economic planning body, was revising regulations on overseas investment approval and registration.

The new regulations, to be published later this month, will see “broad relaxation of approvals for overseas projects” and are aimed at a mechanism centered on registration rather than approval, the report said.

The State Council, China’s cabinet, said Dec 2 that it will be responsible for approving Chinese overseas investment projects worth $1 billion or above in “sensitive” regions or industries.

Overseas investment projects worth $300 million or above are required to register with the State Council.

Chinese enterprises setting up overseas enterprises involving sensitive regions or industries are asked to get approval from the Ministry of Commerce.

State-owned enterprises are told to register their overseas investment projects with the ministry, while provincial enterprises should register theirs with their provincial governments.

During the Central Economic Work Conference, China’s highest-level economic conference, held from Dec 10-13, China pledged to assist Chinese enterprises in going global, by providing accurate information for overseas investment and simplifying the approval procedures for outward investment.

“The government approvals, which involved a lot of documents, intricate procedures and usually a long time period, reduced the efficiency of overseas investment and affected investors’ decision-making in the changing overseas markets,” said Ge Shunqi, deputy head of the Institute of International Economics at Nankai University in Tianjin.

Zhou Mi, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, echoed Ge, saying that the reform of outward direct investment should center on “reducing the burden on enterprises and streamlining the procedures”.

“The government should, instead, provide more services, such as providing more accurate information, creating favorable and predictable investment environments via investment pacts with other economies, offering better risk alerts and insurance services to reduce losses, while promoting investors’ awareness of CSR, labor standards and environmental protection and reducing opposition in host regions,” he said.

China’s outward direct investment has experienced robust growth in recent years, and the country became the world’s third-largest investor in 2012.

In the January-November period, China’s non-financial outward direct investment surged 28.3 percent from a year earlier to $80.24 billion, according to the ministry.

“The market landscape of outward direct investment is different than it was two or three years ago,” Zhou said.

“The economic recovery in the United States and the European Union will boost the outward direct investment of enterprises in developed economies and narrow business opportunities for Chinese enterprises,” Zhou added.

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