South China's Hainan province Tuesday witnessed the inking of 104 key projects to inject new impetus into the construction of its free trade port (FTP).
The projects, 22 of which are foreign-funded, involve 65.72 billion yuan in total investments ($10 billion) and cover tourism, modern services and high-tech industries.
The deals, signed in Haikou, the provincial capital of Hainan, also reflect the increasing appeal of the island province at the forefront of China's opening up to investors.
Previously, the FTP had seen the signing of 741 projects with an investment of 519.6 billion yuan in multiple areas including intelligent manufacturing, international shipping, education, medical care and aerospace.
China proposed setting up a free trade zone in Hainan in 2018 and began construction of the Hainan FTP last year. Over the past three years, a number of foreign companies have settled in Hainan, including Harrow School from Britain, US electric carmaker Tesla and tourism company TUI Group.
Cambodia Angkor Air Co Ltd Tuesday inked a deal to operate 10 planes in Haikou and establish a base there.
David Zhan, board director of the company, said they hoped to benefit from the Seventh Freedom of the Air and fly from Haikou to major cities in Northeast Asia, Russia and the ASEAN members.
The Hainan FTP last year began to trial the Seventh Freedom of the Air, which allows foreign carriers to operate flights between two foreign countries without the need to touch down in the airline's home country.
Defying the economic headwinds brought by the raging pandemic, the Hainan FTP has forged ahead with a steady inpour of investments.
Authorities said that last year Hainan launched 538 projects with an investment of 172.5 billion yuan.
"The construction of these projects are of great significance to develop Hainan's modern industries, narrow the gap in infrastructure and public service and boost confidence in FTP construction," said Qi Hongchao, an official with the Hainan provincial development and reform commission.
Meanwhile, the province unveiled 11 key industrial parks in June last year, where favorable FTP policies are implemented to lure in investment projects. Statistics show over 20,000 new enterprises have been registered in these industrial parks last year.
The Hainan FTP has become a strong magnet to foreign investment as Hainan accelerates opening up against the backdrop of global economic slowdown and shrinking foreign direct investments due to the pandemic, said Peng Wei, deputy director of Hainan's department of commerce.
In 2020, a total of 1,005 overseas-funded enterprises were established in Hainan, up 197.3 percent from the previous year, according to the department.
The booming duty-free shopping sector is the FTP's another attraction for global brands wishing to explore China's huge market.
The first China International Consumer Products Expo, scheduled in Haikou in May, has attracted more than 1,100 international brands, including L'Oreal, Shiseido and Tesla.
After 2025, the entire island of Hainan could become duty-free and rise as a paradise for the duty-free and tourism retail industry, said Han Shengjian, director of the Hainan bureau of international economic development, adding that "these international brands are preparing for their future opportunities in the Hainan FTP."
Starting July 1, 2020, Hainan increased its annual tax-free shopping quota from 30,000 yuan to 100,000 yuan per person. The categories of duty-free goods have been expanded from 38 to 45, with electronic products such as mobile phones and laptops added to the duty-free list.
Five more shops opened in Sanya and Haikou last December and this January, bringing the total number of duty-free shops in Hainan to nine.
"With the expo, Hainan will become the largest luxury consumption center in China and even the world," said Chi Fulin, head of the Hainan-based China Institute for Reform and Development.
China last Thursday issued a guideline to support easing market access in Hainan in its latest effort to speed up the Hainan FTP construction.
The guideline detailed measures to innovate market access in the pharmaceutical and health sectors, optimize financial market entries and development environment and promote wider entries in the fields of culture and education.
Hainan has great potential in the development of the modern service industry, especially in finance, medical and health care, education and luxury consumption, said Chi, noting the Hainan FTP will play a more important role in China's reform and opening up and become a joint of both international and domestic circulation.