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China needs to foster new drivers of growth to address productivity challenges, intensify reforms and promote greater innovation in the economy, according to a new report jointly released by China’s Development Research Center

of the State Council (DRC), China’s Ministry of Finance and the World Bank Group (WBG).

China has experienced a remarkable period of high rates of growth over the past four decades. But the traditional drivers of growth are running out of steam. China is now at a crossroads, with declining returns to public investment and rapid aging. Developing new drivers of growth will require more efficient allocation of resources while reducing environmental impacts and continuously boosting productivity. Unlocking the new drivers will also require governance reforms to let market forces play a decisive role in allocating resources and a reorientation of China’s innovation system.

A joint research team of DRC, MOF, and the WBG analyzed China’s new development opportunities and challenges, resulting in the report, Innovative China: New Drivers of Growth.

“It is necessary for China to promote new drivers of growth to boost the country’s productivity. We need to carry out reforms to make the economy more efficient, competitive and productive. The report provides valuable insights and recommendations that will help us develop a reform agenda for a more innovative and productive economic system,” said Kun Liu, China’s Minister of Finance.

“China's economy is shifting from high-speed growth to high-quality development. It needs to rely on deeper reform, higher level opening up and more integrated and efficient innovation to boost productivity and build a modern economic system. The joint research has yielded a series of important results, which are valuable for China to cultivate new growth drivers and promote a new round of reform and opening up,” said Jiantang Ma, Party Secretary and Vice President (Minister in charge), Development Research Center of the State Council, China.

“The report makes clear that investing in people, removing remaining distortions in the economy and reducing market barriers to competition will be critical as China works to boost its innovation capabilities”, said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and the Pacific.

The new report proposes that China address its productivity challenges by promoting the “three Ds” – removing distortions in the allocation of resources in the economy, accelerating diffusion of existing advanced technologies and innovations, and fostering discovery of new technologies, products, and processes so as to expand China’s productivity frontier. The report develops recommendations in seven areas to promote the “three Ds”: strengthening competition and creating a level playing field for all investors, recalibrating China’s innovation system, building human capital, allocating financial and human resources more efficiently, leveraging regional development and integration, promoting economic globalization and international competitiveness and adapting the model of regulation and governance to adjusting the balance between the state and the market.

To allocate resources more efficiently and remove distortions in the economy, the report recommends further improvements in the business climate – building on advances in recent years – faster progress in the reform of state-owned enterprises, and greater discipline on government support to specific industries. The report also suggests that the allocation of capital could be improved, mitigating the build-up of risks in the financial sector, enhancing oversight of the fintech industry, promoting the development of small and medium enterprises, and ensuring that venture capital and government guidance funds are commercially operated and professionally managed. Fair competition for the country’s huge pool of investable funds would make the economy both more competitive and adaptable. Further, the report suggests the need for more market-based mechanisms to leverage the potential of coordinated regional development and urbanization, including further relaxation of the hukou household registration system and the introduction of tradeable land quotas across regional jurisdictions to enhance the efficiency of public investments and increase the returns on existing public assets.

The promotion of market competition is also central to the diffusion of technologies. The report argues that China still has considerable scope to benefit from further opening of its economy to foreign investment and competition, including by speeding up development of the regulations and administrative review and licensing procedures needed to implement the country’s new Foreign Investment Law. In addition, the report points to the critical role of human capital, including managerial skills, in facilitating the diffusion of technologies. In this regard, a major priority is to address the remaining regional disparities in educational attainment. Curriculum reforms, pedagogical advancement to promote creativity and the cognitive skills of students and the establishment of a lifelong learning system would ensure that China’s workforce can adapt to the changing skill needs of its economy.

China has rapidly improved its innovation capabilities in recent years. Nonetheless, to foster further discovery of new products and processes, the report proposes a recalibration of China’s national innovation system. The objective of such recalibration should be to make it bottom-up, market-oriented and inclusive and to develop innovation support programs that are more demand-based. It also suggests reorienting a greater share of public R&D support to basic research, strengthening of intellectual property rights and improving the quality of patents. Robust market competition would incentivize enterprises to continuously innovate and upgrade.

The report argues that unlocking the new drivers of growth will require continuous reforms. To help boost innovation and productivity, the role of the state needs to evolve and focus on providing stable market expectations, a clear and fair business environment, strengthening the regulatory system and the rule of law, and reforming the management of civil service performance to further support the market system.