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China passes new foreign investment law

Bill aims to ease global concerns

March 16, 2019 00:00:00

Chinese President Xi Jinping flanked by other senior leaders are seen at the inauguration of National People's Congress

BEIJING, Mar 15 (AFP): China's parliament approved Friday a foreign investment law that may serve as an olive branch in trade talks with the United States (BBC), but it received a lukewarm welcome from business groups.

The legislation aims to address long-running grievances from foreign firms including stronger protections for intellectual property, but the US and European chambers of commerce voiced concerns that they were not given enough time to give their input.

The National People's Congress voted 2,929 in favour of the law - with eight against and eight abstentions - barely three months after a first draft was debated, an unusually quick turnaround for the legislature, which meets once a year.

The move comes as US and Chinese negotiators hold complex talks aimed at resolving a months-long trade war that has pounded businesses with tariffs on $360 billion in two-way commerce.

US President Donald Trump said Thursday the negotiations should wrap up within four weeks, adding: "We are getting what we have to get."

China's top trade negotiator, Liu He, held phone talks with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, with the official Xinhua news agency saying they made "substantial progress".

The bill will eliminate the requirement for foreign enterprises to transfer proprietary technology to Chinese joint-venture partners and protect against "illegal government interference" - major sticking points in the trade negotiations.

The legislation will come into force on January 1, 2020, according to Xinhua.

China will also amend its intellectual property law and "introduce a punitive damages mechanism to ensure that all infringements will be seriously dealt with", Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told reporters at the end of the parliament's two-week session.

The changes will "ensure violators have no place to hide", he said.

Under the bill, foreign investors will enjoy the same privileges as Chinese companies in most sectors, except those placed on "negative lists", officials say.

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