China to lift foreign ownership cap in 2020

Pedro Gonçalves
China to lift foreign ownership cap in 2020

China will abolish caps on foreign ownership of securities, futures and life insurance firms in 2020, one year earlier than planned.

The world's second-largest economy announced it is accelerating the pace of opening its financial sector to foreign investors as it fights slowing growth at home and a damaging trade war with the US.

Foreign investors will also be encouraged to set up wealth management firms, currency brokerages and pension management companies, the Financial Stability and Development Committee said in a statement posted by the central bank.

Additional measures include scrapping entry barriers for foreign insurance companies, such as a requirement of 30 years of business operations, and cancelling a 25% equity cap on foreign ownership of insurance asset management firms. Foreign-owned credit rating agencies will also be allowed to evaluate a greater number of bond and debt types.

Currently, China limits foreign ownership of any domestic securities, futures or life insurance firm to 51%. The restricts are supposedly aimed at protecting the country's comparatively young financial industry but foreign companies have complained of an unfair playing field in the country. 

The sheer size of the industry makes it attractive as winning even single-digit market shares would offer sizable profits, but global firms need to navigate an often opaque regulatory environment and take on state-controlled rivals that drive much of China's economic activity.

The new measures follow on Premier Li Keqiang's commitment earlier this month at the World Economic Forum in Dalian to speed up greater foreign ownership in China's financial sector.

Since November, several global financial giants have won approval to take controlling stakes in existing or new brokerages on the Chinese mainland, including Switzerland's UBS, US-based JPMorgan and Japan's Nomura. Beijing also made an exception for two European insurers, allowing Germany's Allianz to launch a 100% foreign-owned subsidiary, and France's Axa to take control of its joint venture.


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