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Free trade zones in China

Free trade zones (FTZs) are a type of special economic zones (SEZs) where goods are imported, handled, manufactured, and exported without any intervention from customs. In August 2016, seven new FTZs were announced, bringing the total number of FTZs in China to 11. Each FTZ in China caters to a specific industry and benefits from several types of incentives such as:

In 2013, the pilot Shanghai FTZ was inaugurated. It was a testing ground for legal innovations and had fewer restrictions to attract foreign direct investment. Incentives offered included:

All these incentives were eventually adopted for all the FTZs in China.

In 2015, three more FTZs were announced in Fujian, Guangdong and Tianjin. Fujian FTZ supports trade with Taiwan, while the Guangdong FTZ focuses on economic integration with Hong Kong and Macau. Tianjin FTZ supports northeastern China and the development of offshore financial markets.

In 2016, seven new FTZs were announced to support the economic development of western China and the Belt and Road Initiative. The locations include:

A 12th FTZ will be established in Hainan by 2020. The government aims to develop a free trade port by 2025 in the province and ensure that the island province’s free trade system is completely developed by 2035.


FTZs offer several types of incentives for foreign investors whose firms fulfil certain conditions such as:

In addition to customs duties and tax incentives, the customs clearance process is more streamlined with respect to declarations and payments. For example, companies can declare several batches of goods on a single form and issue a collective declaration for export and import of goods. This reduces clearance costs and increases flexibility. Firms with adequate guarantees can also pay their tax in a one-time lump sum payment within a specific period, for goods already imported.

The FTZs also have relaxed policies for foreign-invested enterprises in specific industries or capabilities, for example, for logistics and pharmaceuticals that are not widely available in China.

Map of China’s free trade zones, their focus industries and development progress
Map of China’s free trade zones, their focus industries and development progress


Evolution of China’s FTZs and focus industries
ShanghaiFirst generation - 2013Testing ground for new FTZ regulations, decreased requirements for investors.
  • finance and advanced services
  • pharmaceuticals
FujianSecond generation - 2015Facilitation of trade with Taiwan.
  • advanced manufacturing
  • financial services
  • tourism
GuangdongSecond generation - 2015Economic integration with Hong Kong and Macau.
  • logistics
  • technology services
  • financial services
TianjinSecond generation - 2015Offshore financial markets.
  • financial lending
  • cross-border financing
  • modern services.
ChongqingThird generation - 2016Inland trade centre and strategic connection to One Belt, One Road (OBOR) countries.
  • financial services
  • advanced services
  • pharmaceuticals
LiaoningThird generation - 2016Northeastern China economic development and logistics and shipping centre.
  • advanced manufacturing
  • financial services
  • trade
  • logistics
HenanThird generation - 2016Modern transportation system, logistics hub.
  • automobile and biomedical
  • cross-border e-commerce
  • financial services
HubeiThird generation - 2016Yangtze River Economic Belt development through diversified transport links.
  • advanced manufacturing
  • new energy vehicle manufacturing
  • modern services
ShaanxiThird generation - 2016Transport, commerce, courier and logistics hub to support OBOR.
  • agricultural
  • international trade
  • modern services
SichuanThird generation - 2016Transport and logistics hub to support OBOR.
  • trade-related services
  • advanced manufacturing
  • medical services
ZhejiangThird generation - 2016Maritime commerce centre, trade liberalization for commodities with focus on oil.
  • maritime-related advanced services
  • oil and petrochemicals
  • manufacturing
  • logistics

Negative lists

In June 2018, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Commerce jointly released the new national and FTZ negative lists, which list prohibited and restricted industries for foreign investment. In addition to these lists, 22 special management measures were introduced to highlight the changes made within the revised lists.

National negative list

The 2018 national negative list also referred to as the Special administrative measures for the access of foreign investment, partially replaces the previous 2017 catalogue for the guidance of foreign investment industries. The new national list reduces the number of restrictive measures from 63 to 48.

The 2018 national negative list relaxes or removes restrictions on foreign investment in the agriculture, mining and infrastructure sectors. Restrictions in sectors such as finance, insurance and automobile will be gradually reduced.

Refer to the complete 2018 negative list (PDF: 418 KB; 5 pages in Chinese only).

Free trade zones negative list

The FTZ negative list is a list of industries in which foreign investments are either prohibited or restricted in China’s FTZs. Prohibited industries, such as ones related to national security, are prohibited, while restricted sectors need foreign investors to acquire special approvals or enter into a joint venture with an existing Chinese partner. For industries not included in the list, foreign investors will receive the same treatment as domestic firms.

The 2018 FTZ negative list, also referred to as the Special management measures for foreign investment access in the free trade zone (PDF: 471 KB, 6 pages in Chinese only), has reduced restrictions for foreign investments from 95 measures in 2017 to 45 in 2018. It applies to all the FTZs in China.

The majority of the changes for foreign investors in the 2018 list include the removal or easing of ownership caps and joint-venture requirements. Additional restrictions removed in the 2018 FTZ negative list include the following industries:

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