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Insurers Call for Simplified Procedures
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US insurance officials yesterday called on China's insurance regulator to simplify the licensing process for foreign firms in line with the country's World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments.


China has technically removed geographical restrictions on foreign insurers, but it still has a separate and more complex licensing process for foreigners in the burgeoning insurance industry, said delegates at the fourth Sino-US Insurance Conference.


"The separate licensing process slows down foreign insurers' pace of geographical expansion, and we hope the regulator can streamline those licensing requirements," said Timothy P. Stratford, assistant US Trade Representative.


Stratford cited Anbang Property & Casualty Insurance Company, a local insurer specializing in auto insurance, as an example of the unequal treatment between foreign and domestic insurers.


Anbang obtained four branch licences in December, allowing it to do business in Qinghai, Gansu provinces and the Tibet and Ningxia Hui autonomous regions, remote areas in western China.


"Foreign insurers could never get two branch licenses simultaneously," Stratford said.


However, according to Ming Xia, deputy director of the international department of the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC), China has given foreign insurer's fair treatment in line with the country's WTO commitments.


"There are no rules forbidding foreign insurers to apply for several branch licences at one time," Ming said.


"The real situation is that it is very hard for foreign insurers to set up lots of branches at the same time due to lack of personnel," Ming added. "And they mostly choose to enter developed areas such as eastern China's Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Shandong provinces rather than remote regions."


The soaring number of foreign insurance institutions in recent years is the best proof of China's efforts to open the market, said Li Kemu, vice-chairman of the CIRC.


By December 15 of this year, 47 foreign insurers from 15 countries and regions will have set up 121 business institutions in China, among which 11 US insurers have established 34 business institutions. Among China's 42 life insurance companies, 24 are foreign-funded or joint ventures.


Although the overall market share of foreign life insurers hovers around 8.9 percent, they have the lion's share of the Beijing market at 51.86 percent. The figure in Shanghai and Guangzhou is 19 percent and 12 percent.


Foreign non-life insurers saw a growth of 24.5 percent in premium last year, 10 percent quicker than that of the domestic firms.


The US delegation also asked the CIRC to quicken the approval process on foreign non-life insurers' applications to transform their branches to subsidiaries.


A branch cannot do business in other provinces, but a subsidiary has the legal status to apply for business in other regions.


"Being a subsidiary could help to boost our geographic expansion," said George Huang, china chief representative of US-based non-life insurer Chubb Group.


(China Daily November 16, 2006)


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