Foreign investors welcome in China’s ports

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  • In the debate around the COSCO investment in Hamburg’s “Tollerort” Terminal, one of the many discussed aspects was whether China would allow reciprocity for foreign investments in its own port terminals.
  • Formally, China does not impose any restrictions on the foreign operation of port terminals, according to the “negative list”. Rather, the investment in the “construction and operation of public port terminals” is encouraged and supported with tax and land benefits. Chinese and foreign entities need to acquire a license for port operation.
  • In practice, China’s ports also opened their terminals to foreign investment. Currently, at least 34 port terminals have one or more non-mainland investors.
  • The largest foreign investors are APM Terminals (Maersk) from Denmark with 11 terminals, PSA from Singapore with 10 and the private Hutchison from Hong Kong with 9. Hutchison started its first China investment in 1992, before the handover of Hong Kong (foreign investment rules also count for Hong Kong).
  • Further terminal operators invested in China, such as Nippon Yusen from Japan, DP World from Dubai and Wallenius Wilhelmsen from Norway/Sweden.
  • Only in four cases, foreign investors obtained more than 50% of the terminal operator, which indicates a de facto barrier to acquire larger shares for foreign investors and may hint at some informal investment barriers.
  • JV partners are regularly either local port companies or national Chinese port operators such as COSCO.

Sinolytics is a European consulting and analysis company specializing in China. It advises European companies on their strategic orientation and concrete business activities in the People’s Republic.


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