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Advisers see Pingtan as center for duty-free shopping

By XU WEI in Beijing and HU MEIDONG in Fuzhou | China Daily | Updated: 2021-03-11

Political advisers from Fujian province have proposed establishing an offshore duty-free shopping policy in Pingtan, the Chinese mainland's closest place to the island of Taiwan, to create an unofficial platform for cross-Straits exchanges and meet consumer demand.

The proposal, endorsed by 32 members of the National Committee of the China People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body, said implementing an offshore duty-free shopping policy in Pingtan will help make the island a first choice for Taiwan residents coming to the mainland to find jobs and start new businesses.

"The mainland policies adopted by the Democratic Progressive Party authority (in Taiwan) resulted in a sharp decline of mainland tourists. The COVID-19 pandemic has also dealt a blow to cross-Straits exchanges, especially the tourism sector," said Wu Zhiming, a member of the CPPCC National Committee and head of the Fujian branch of the China Vocational Education Association.

Wu, who initiated the proposal, said Pingtan has already piloted related policies, including one that makes it easier for Taiwan residents to operate travel agencies and work as tour guides.

"The rollout of an offshore duty-free policy will help pilot an integrated development mechanism for cross-Straits tourism and enable better exchanges between people, logistics, funds and information," he said.

Wu said there is growing demand from the Taiwan business community to step up the integration of industries on the island and the mainland and share the economic dividends.

There are also growing calls among Taiwan businesses to leverage the mainland market to better tap into the potential of Southeast Asian countries, he said.

China first piloted an offshore duty-free policy in Hainan province in April 2011, and the central government has allowed the province to increase the annual tax-free shopping quota from 30,000 yuan to 100,000 yuan ($4,600 to $15,300) per person, as part of broader efforts to develop Hainan into a free trade port.

The rollout of the duty-free policy in Pingtan-a comprehensive experimental zone that occupies about 400 square kilometers and has a population of around 460,000-would contribute to the nation's ongoing efforts to foster a new development paradigm, Wu said.

With outbound tourism hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, the policy will help Pingtan attract more tourists and meet the shopping demands of residents, he said.

Pingtan is also well-positioned to implement the offshore duty-free policy given that a high-speed railway connects it with Fuzhou, Fujian's provincial capital, and multiple highways that link with major cities and the Fuzhou Changle International Airport. It only takes about two hours and 30 minutes to travel by sea from Pingtan to Taipei.

Wu suggested that the policy should mainly target air and railway travelers to minimize regulatory risks, with the use of face-recognition technology to enable effective oversight of shoppers' behavior.

Lin Zhiling, a Pingtan native who owns a business startup, said she supports an offshore duty-free policy as it could lead to a sharp increase in tourists to the island, bringing more business opportunities.

The policy will give consumers the chance to buy goods of better quality at cheaper prices, she said.

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