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China will sharply widen market access for foreign investors this year, with a focus on lowering investment barriers for the service sector and relaxing ownership limits in certain sectors, the state planner said on Tuesday.
The remarks, which echoed what a senior party official pledged in January in Davos, come as a reassurance for international investors who are eager to expand in China's multi-trillion-dollar financial sector but have long been frustrated by regulations and the slow pace of market reforms.
U.S. and European business groups have urged China to grant more access and to level the playing field for their companies against domestic firms across a range of industries.
Beijing has said it would raise the limit on foreign ownership in joint-venture firms involved in the futures, securities and funds markets, but it was unclear when the rules would be effective.
China will strictly protect the intellectual property rights of foreign firms and ensure that domestic and foreign firms compete on an equal footing, said Ning Jizhe, vice head of the National Development and Reform Commission and head of the statistics bureau.
"China also aims to attract foreign investment in the western regions, and inland and border areas, providing foreign firms assistance with financial capital and land," Ning told a news briefing in Beijing, adding that China exempts foreign firms from paying provisional income tax on profits they re-invest into the economy.
The world's second-largest economy is facing relatively large external pressure in attracting foreign direct investments (FDI) this year due to uncertainties in the global investment environment, according to the commerce ministry.
FDI into China in January only rose 0.3 percent from a year earlier after declining 9.2 percent the previous month.
China will achieve its economic growth targets this year through effort, said state planner head He Lifeng, adding that he expects exports and imports to maintain steady growth this year.