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Experts call for moves to give pilot FTZs digital edge

By FAN FEIFEI in Hangzhou | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-11-25 08:19
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This photo taken on Nov 23, 2023 shows the booth of China COSCO Shipping Corporation Limited at the Integrated Show Pavilion during the second Global Digital Trade Expo in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang province. [Photo/Xinhua]

Greater efforts are needed to advance institutional innovation in China's pilot free trade zones, to better align with high-standard international economic and trade rules such as those of the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement, officials and experts said on Friday.

This is part of a broader push by China to improve its digital trade governance system, and promote innovation and develop digital trade in the country, they said, in remarks made during the second Global Digital Trade Expo in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

Guo Tingting, vice-minister of commerce, said more efforts should be made to deepen reform and innovation in pilot FTZs, with a key focus on cross-border data flow, application of digital technology, and openness and sharing of data, so as to inject new momentum into digital trade.

Guo emphasized the need to shorten the negative lists for foreign investment access in pilot FTZs in an appropriate manner, introduce a negative list for cross-border trade in services as soon as possible, and expand international cooperation in the fields of digital identity, e-payment and electronic bills.

The country's pilot FTZs, she said, have played an active role in aligning with high-standard international digital trade rules and carried out exploratory projects in digital standards, digital technology, digital services and digital transactions in recent years.

Guo also called for efforts to vigorously develop new forms and models of digital trade, bolster the development of digital trade in services, as well as accelerate the construction of a modern digital industrial system.

The DEPA, signed in June 2020 by Chile, New Zealand and Singapore, is a new type of trade partnership agreement aimed at bolstering digital trade by regulating issues related to the digital economy, including the facilitation of business and trade, data flow and protection, personal information safety and artificial intelligence.

China formally submitted its application to join the DEPA in November 2021. In August 2022, the country set up a working group to advance talks on joining the DEPA, and launched negotiations on its accession to the agreement.

Highlighting that China has paid great attention to the data flow issue in the context of safeguarding data security, Huang Xianhai, vice-president of Zhejiang University, said under the DEPA framework, it is necessary to encourage pilot FTZs to carry out trials on the facilitation of cross-border data flow, establish related governance and operation platforms, and explore data classification and supervision models.

Huang said there should be a concerted push to nurture a data elements market, promote the confirmation of data-related rights, and facilitate the circulation and transaction of data resources, in a bid to bolster the safe, efficient and convenient flow of data.

Zhou Nianli, a professor at the China Institute for WTO Studies in the University of International Business and Economics, called for establishing a comprehensive data governance framework that covers governance of cross-border data flow, personal privacy protection, openness and sharing of government data, and innovative governance of data.

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