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Chinese planner promises foreign cos access to mkts

China's top planner tried to reassure foreign companies they are welcome in its slowing, state-dominated economy in a speech today aimed at dispelling growing anxiety Beijing is squeezing them out of promising industries.

Speaking to an audience that included executives of top global companies at a government-organised conference, Xu Shaoshi pledged to "promote two-way opening up and liberalisation." Xu promised foreign companies equal treatment with local enterprises as Beijing carries out a sweeping overhaul aimed at promoting self-sustaining growth based on domestic consumption and making state companies that dominate a range of industries more competitive and efficient.

"We are ready to share these growth opportunities with you," said Xu, chairman of the Cabinet's National Reform and Development Commission. The China Development Forum 2016 is being closely watched by global companies because it comes at the start of the ruling Communist Party's latest five-year development plan that runs through 2020.

Executives are eager to learn details of how the party might carry out pledges to make the economy more competitive, open more industries to private and possibly foreign competitors and to shrink bloated, money-losing industries including coal, steel and cement. 

The guest list for the weekend conference at a government guesthouse in the Chinese capital included executives of US, European and Asian banks, manufacturers, Internet and other companies. The ruling party's plan promises to give the private sector a bigger economic role, but business groups say regulators are trying to shield Chinese rivals from competition or compel foreign companies to hand over technology in exchange for market access.

Business groups say Beijing has yet to carry out most of the reforms promised in a separate 2013 plan that called for giving market forces a "decisive role" in the economy. They point to limits on foreign ownership in an array of industries and say in some areas such as information security technology for banks regulators are reducing or blocking market access.

"The big question is whether foreign companies will be able to access that growth," John Frisbie, president of the US-China Business Council, said in an interview last week.

Companies are getting "mixed signals" from Chinese regulators, said Frisbie. "That uncertainty is weakening business confidence." 
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