World Economy

China's National People's Congress kicks off this weekend: Here's what to watch

Hostesses jump for a picture during the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 3, 2017.
Fred Dufour | AFP | Getty Images

China's National People's Congress kicks off this weekend, and investors will be watching for the standard numbers released at this major parliamentary session.

They also hope to hear more about developments that could have a bearing on international companies in China.

Expect more tea-leaf reading as political jockeying continues before a major leadership reshuffle at the 19th Communist Party Congress in the fall.

The numbers

Premier Li Keqiang will deliver the government work report, China's version of the State of the Union address on Sunday. The report is a blueprint for the country's economic policy in 2017. It will reveal the annual growth target that most economists believe will be "around 6.5 percent."

The language describing the number will be important since "around" will send a signal to many analysts that Beijing is willing to see growth slow below 6.5 percent as opposed to the target range of 6.5 percent to 7 percent in 2016.

The consumer inflation target is expected to stay the same as last year at 3 percent. The budget deficit forecast will likely be at the level of 2016 at 3 percent of GDP, though some analysts believe it could be larger. The defense budget, which will be unveiled at the event's news conference on Saturday, is expected to see a bigger jump from 2016 when the budget rose at its slowest pace since 2010. Maritime security in the South China Sea will probably get a special mention.

The political maneuvering of President Xi Jinping

The NPC is one of two major political congresses in 2017. The 19th Communist Party Congress is more significant this year because expectations are high for a leadership shake-up. Recent political moves resulted in a new commerce minister and head of the economic planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission. What these appointments have in common is that the new men in power are considered to be in President Xi Jinping's camp.

Expect more appointments along these lines as Xi consolidates his power further before the Communist Party meeting. The concern among some economists though is that despite likely pledges at the NPC to hasten economic reforms, the leadership will prioritize growth and economic stability in 2017 ahead of the expected political change.

The Donald Trump effect

The congress is a rare opportunity to get insights directly from the country's leaders. The foreign, finance and commerce ministers will hold press conferences throughout the multiday session. The premier will also take questions from reporters after the closing ceremony. No doubt all of the officials will be questioned about the impact of the Trump administration of their policymaking. The governor of the People's Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, will be of special interest. Not only is the longstanding governor expected to retire soon, but he will likely be asked about the possibility that Trump will label China a currency manipulator.

The talk about foreign business

China's politicians will debate several laws, including some that could impact international companies. Lawmakers have started reviewing a draft amendment to the anti-unfair competition law. The law came into force in 1993, and the revision was given a first reading at a preliminary bimonthly meeting of the NPC's Standing Committee last week. The draft under consideration is meant to stem unfair competition. Some foreign businesses have added their comments and, according to the U.S.-China Business Council, many are hoping for additional protections on trademarks and intellectual property.

Recent debate about corporate tax reforms will likely continue at the NPC. As in many other parts of the world including the U.S., China is considering tax reductions to remain competitive. The council is hopeful that cutting fees will be a big announcement at this year's event.