Shanghai To Open Free-Trade Zone To Boost China's Growth

On Sunday, Shanghai will open a free trade area that officials say will be a laboratory for overhauling the world's second-largest economy. The new zone is garnering lots of media attention in China, but details remain sketchy.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In the NPR business zone, we'll talk about an experiment in China.

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GREENE: On Sunday, Shanghai will open a free trade zone that officials say will be a laboratory for reforming the world's second-largest economy.

As NPR's Frank Langfitt reports, the new zone is getting a lot of media attention in China but the details remain sketchy.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: The formula of low-wage labor and cheap exports that transformed China from a backwater into a global economic power has run out of steam.

XU BIN: The Chinese economy is slowing down. The leadership feels very high pressure, a sense of urgency.

LANGFITT: Xu Bin is a professor of finance at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. He says in the 1980s, China's special economic zones focused on manufacturing.

Now, faced with the threat of stagnation, the nation's new leaders hope to use the zone in Shanghai to help reform the country's financial system and boost growth.

Inside the zone, Xu says, foreign businesses will face less regulation. It will also be easier to set up bank branches and move money in and out of China.

BIN: What is really important for the new leadership is to send an early signal of where they want China to go. I think they use the Shanghai Free Trade Zone to send that signal.

LANGFITT: Of course, Chinese politicians are notorious for hyping projects that turn out to be nothing more than window dressing. And Xu says anyone expecting radical change is certain to be disappointed. But he thinks China's leaders are serious about fixing the economy this time. After all, they don't have a lot of choice.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai.

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