Greater Bay Area embraces new round of foreign investment
P&G example of leading global company ramping up involvement in the region
Fortune 500 consumer goods conglomerate P&G plans to launch an intelligent technology innovation center this year in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, representing its latest investment in the county after setting up a digital innovation center in 2017.
"The digital innovation center was established within just four months in Guangzhou. Since then, the center has invested $100 million in strengthening innovation in big data, artificial intelligence and other areas," said Matthew Price, president of P&G Greater China, in an interview with Xinhua News Agency.
"Our business achievements over the years have fully proved that P&G's choice of long-term investment and development in Guangzhou is a very correct decision," Price said.
P&G is the epitome of global leading global companies ramping up investment in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and beyond in recent years.
As China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) kicks off, investors from all over the world reckon that China's strong growth prospects, the promise of further opening-up, and improvement of the business environment are attracting them to increase investment in the world's most populous market.
P&G, one of the first Fortune 500 companies to invest in Guangzhou, established its first joint venture and production base in 1988, which was put into production two years later.
Following more than three decades of development, China has become P&G's second-largest market in the world after the US, and is now P&G's largest e-commerce market.
"About 10 percent of our business in the United States is done through e-commerce, while the number in China is 45 percent. The innovation in big data and artificial intelligence will help us better serve consumers in the internet era," he said.
Like P&G, a growing number of foreign companies are now beginning to set up R&D and innovation centers in the GBA.
In January, NCS, a wholly owned subsidiary of Fortune 500 firm Sing-Tel Group, launched NEXT Shenzhen Innovation Centre in Guangdong, its first innovation center in China. Siemens Energy also launched an innovation center for advanced energy technologies in Shenzhen in January.
"The new innovation center in Shenzhen is another lighthouse project to promote the China-EU green partnership and digital partnership," said Christian Bruch, CEO of Siemens Energy AG, adding that "this will bring us closer to the most dynamic energy market and, together with Chinese partners, create technologies and innovations that have an industrial and social impact".
Meanwhile, since the Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao GBA was released in February 2019, more and more multinationals have moved their headquarters or regional centers to this more interconnected area.
In January, New World Development Co Ltd, one of the largest real estate developers in Hong Kong, signed a cooperation agreement with the Guangzhou municipal government to settle the headquarters of New World China, its flagship property arm, in the city, marking the company's new stage of layout in the GBA.
AstraZeneca, a multinational pharmaceutical company, will also establish its South China headquarters in Guangzhou this year, with a focus on R&D, operations management and innovation incubation in the area.
Guangzhou and Shenzhen, two major cities in the GBA, have been lauded by foreign firms for their efforts at fostering an enabling business environment.
Huang Shaomei, executive director of New World Development, said that the company decided to invest in Guangzhou due to continuous improvements in its business environment.
"If you invested in the city back in 2013, approval of a real estate investment project involved 100 procedures and at least 799 working days. However, the time was reduced to 50 days in 2018 and 35 days in 2019. And now, it only takes 11 days to get approvals for low-risk industrial projects," Huang said.
According to a report on China's business environment in 2020 issued by the National Development and Reform Commission, Guangzhou was rated as a "benchmark city" in all the 18 assessment indicators and won the title of "best practice" in four indicators.
Growing foreign investment is proof of a city's quality business environment. With the first business license for foreign-invested enterprises issued in 1981, Shenzhen has approved 96,000 foreign direct investment projects in total, and its accumulated use of foreign capital has reached $120.5 billion.
Earlier this year, two workstations were established in Shenzhen aimed at providing foreign enterprises with services including business guidance, policy interpretation, investment consulting and complaint acceptance.
In addition, a plan for helping overseas professionals work and live better in Shenzhen was formally issued in January. According to the plan, foreign nationals engaged in finance, construction, cultural tourism, medicine and healthcare along with other 11 fields will enjoy more facilitations in the city.
"Shenzhen is on the way to build itself into a city with a more fair and internationalized business environment," said Guo Xiaohui, executive chairman of the Shenzhen Association of Enterprises with Foreign Investment.
According to the outline of the new five-year plan, China will promote construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao GBA in an active and prudent manner.
While applauding the adoption of the plan, leaders of foreign enterprises said that the Chinese market remains appealing to global investors and the investment layout in the GBA is in line with their development prospects.
Leon Wang, executive vice-president, international and China president of AstraZeneca, said Guangzhou International Bio Island－where its South China headquarters is located in the core of the GBA－is a highly innovative area. The setup of the headquarters is of great strategic significance in further expanding its market in South China.
Frances Yu, president of Amway China, said the consumer products firm will firmly seize the strategic opportunity of building a healthy China and leverage Amway's advantages to help develop the health and wellness sector in the GBA and enhance the international competitiveness of the entire industrial cluster.
The southern region of China, especially the GBA, is where most EU companies first set foot in China. It is renowned for its highly developed and fully competitive business environment and transparency of government policies, said George Lau, vice-president of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China.
"As outlined in the 14th Five-Year Plan, China pledges to reduce the intensity of carbon emissions, and achieve the peaking of carbon emissions by 2030, which will unleash opportunities for the EU companies with an advantage in the field of renewable energy," Lau said.
Also, a report released by the American Chamber of Commerce in South China said that about 70 percent of surveyed US companies considered the Three-Year-Plan (2018-20) for the development of the GBA, released by Guangdong province, as helpful.
"The Greater Bay Area is going to be a massive growth dynamic for the development in the southern region of China," said Harley Seyedin, president of the chamber.