Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME) Forum

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1 Introduction to the Forum The was established in 2005 and acts as a platform for European SMEs to share experiences and provide practical information to support their business success in China. The Forum also serves as a link between European multinationals and SMEs operating in China. The Forum serves as a platform to monitor business conditions in China for SMEs and interacts with both industry-specific and horizontal Forums and Working Groups to keep abreast of industry and regulatory developments. The SME Forum also regularly organises focused events and seminars on topics that are of interest to SMEs. Seminars have been on the topics of accessing finance, corporate strategy, investment planning, labour law and HR, intellectual property rights (IPR), and standardisation, among others. The official definition of the European Union (EU) limits SMEs to a maximum size of 250 employees and maximum annual turnover of EUR 50 million or total assets of EUR 43 million. In China, the definition of an SME varies by industry. Generally, much larger enterprises are considered SMEs in China than in the EU, especially with regards to the number of employees. 1 Additionally, in the EU an SME must be an independent company, whereas in China this is not a requirement. Besides the SME Forum, the European Chamber supports European SMEs in China through the following initiatives: EU SME Centre: The SME Forum is pleased about the establishment of the EU SME Centre in Beijing in November As one of the consortium partners, the European Chamber and its SME Forum have played and will continue to play an integral part in its development. The EU SME Centre will provide support services for European SMEs operating or looking to do business in China. For more detailed information, please refer to the 1 Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIT), National Bureau of Statistics of China, National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and Ministry of Finance (MOF) of P.R.China , 'Regulations on Small and Mediumsized Enterprises (SMEs) Categorizing Criteria' last accessed on 5th August Centre s website: China IPR SME Helpdesk: The China IPR SME Helpdesk supports European SMEs to both protect and enforce their IPR in or relating to China, through the provision of free information and services. For more detailed information, please refer to the Helpdesk s website: Both the EU SME Centre and the China IPR SME Helpdesk are located next to each other and are a five minute walk away from the European Chamber office in Beijing. Key Recommendations 1. Provide European SMEs in China with Better Access to Financing Chinese regulators should remove regulatory obstacles that currently limit foreign SMEs access to fi nancing in China. The European Union should establish a dedicated fund for European SMEs in China to support their development in China. 2.Reduce the Regulatory and Administrative Burdens of SMEs Simplify and streamline the regulatory and administrative processes that affect SMEs. Provide a comprehensive and easily accessible onecounter-service resource platform to provide greater transparency and support for SMEs on the key requirements set out for them by multiple government agencies. Business Climate for SMEs in China SMEs are the backbone of an economy and make an immense contribution to economic growth, competitiveness and employment. They are the source of many innovative technologies, products and services and the EU acknowledges the key economic and social role played by SMEs as a major growth and job creation catalyst. In Europe, SMEs have experienced worrying trends during the slow recovery from the global economic crisis. SMEs 68

2 European Business in China Position Paper 欧 盟 企 业 在 中 国 建 议 书 2011/2012 have been especially affected by worsening access to credit due to stricter lending policies and their poorer financial results. As a result, companies have had to set aside long-term investment plans to face short-term cash constraints and avoid liabilities. Due to the sluggish economy in Europe, emerging markets are being viewed as more and more attractive places to do business. This is especially the case in China today. According to the results of the European Chamber s 2011 Business Confidence Survey (the Survey hereafter), the vast majority of European companies feel that they have benefi ted from China s rapid economic recovery from the global fi nancial crisis and are optimistic about the further growth of their sector in China. 2 The Survey also reveals that serving the Chinese market is the number one reason for European companies operating their business in China, reinforcing the strategic importance of the Chinese market for them. A substantial sixty-fi ve percent of respondents of the Survey represented European SMEs in China. 3 China remains attractive even in the face of increasing concerns over a perceived unfair regulatory environment towards foreign-invested enterprises (FIEs). European SMEs feel that Chinese regulators are making it more difficult for foreign firms to access their market and economic stimulus funding. The Survey found that a substantial forty-one percent of European SME respondents feel that government policies towards FIEs have become less fair over the past two years, and a larger forty-six percent expect this to continue over the next two years. 1. Minimum Registered Capital Requirements Every Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise (WFOE) set up in China must have a stated registered capital. This amount is provided in the Articles of Association of the company and is also noted on the company register. The registered capital usually includes all of the components of the initial investment, including its start up cash, contributed property and transferred intellectual property. This registered capital provides some notice to creditors of the capital adequacy of the company. According to Chinese Company Law, the minimum registered capital of a limited liability company is CNY 30,000 (EUR 3,311) and CNY 100,000 (EUR 11,036) for a single shareholder company. However, in practice, the actual level of minimum registered capital required depends on a number of factors, including: the company s industry, mode of operation, and whether the company intends to obtain certain administrative licences. For instance, additional legal requirements can apply with regard to minimum registered capital e.g. if the company wants to obtain a certain administrative licence. Furthermore, approval departments for FIEs can also have higher requirements in relation to minimum registered capital that are not transparently communicated, which can pose particular diffi culties for SMEs that are not familiar with them. As a result, the minimum registered capital requirements often end up being higher than the CNY 30,000 and CNY 100,000 limits stated in the Chinese Company Law. 2. Financing Restrictions Challenges for SMEs in China Overall, SMEs are positive about the opportunities offered by the fast growing Chinese market. Nevertheless, due to their limited resources and financing options, SMEs often find it more diffi cult than larger enterprises to handle economic, regulatory and market challenges. The Chinese government has made visible efforts to improve China s business environment for SMEs. However, the system is still weighted against SMEs and favours large corporations. Below are detailed the key challenges for European SMEs operating in the Chinese market: 2 European Chamber Business Confidence Survey 2011, 70% of respondents feel they participated in China s economic recovery; 79% are optimistic about future growth in their sector. 3 European Chamber Business Confidence Survey 2011, SME defined as having less than 250 employees Gaining access to financing is still a major problem for European SMEs operating in China. In comparison with developed financial markets, SMEs in China only have limited instruments with which to tackle liquidity shortages. Furthermore, foreign SMEs in China do not have access to the same range of fi nancing channels (e.g. third party fi nancing) as their Chinese SME counterparts. The results of the 2011 Business Confi dence Survey revealed that access to fi nancing in China is seen as a top fi ve comparative disadvantage of FIEs compared with domestic companies. 4 In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, strategic investment and maintaining adequate liquidity have increased in importance for SMEs. Chinese financial and 4 European Chamber Business Confidence Survey 2011, 39% of respondents cited access to financing as a key comparative disadvantage of FIEs compared to domestic companies 69

3 investment regulations, however, make it diffi cult for European SMEs to reach this objective. a) Access to Credit / Bank Loans SMEs (both domestic and foreign) and provide them with the fi nancing needed to allow them to continue competing and contributing to the development of the Chinese economy. The SME Forum welcomes the China Banking Regulatory Commission s (CBRC) June 2011 announcement of policies to encourage lenders to offer more loans to smallscale enterprises. According to new regulations, a lower risk weighting (25-percentage-point less) will be applied when calculating the capital-adequacy ratio for loans of less than CNY 5 million (EUR 551,792) to each individual small enterprise. 5 Although this extra support for SMEs is encouraging and much needed, these new policies do not ease the challenges of foreign SMEs gaining access to finance in China. In practice, even short-term bank loans for FIEs can only be obtained against guarantees from banks outside China. The potential loan, however, is then limited by the Foreign Exchange Foreign Debt Quota (or borrowing gap ) set out by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE), which is based on the difference between a company s registered capital and total investment of the company. For projects with a total investment of USD 3 million or below, the borrowing gap is set to only 30% of the total investment. The guarantee counts towards the borrowing gap if the guarantee is drawn. As part of the borrowing gap will often already be used for medium and long-term bank loans, the potential of SMEs to bridge liquidity shortages by using short-term bank loans is further reduced. b) Shareholder Loans Shareholder loans from the parent company typically granted in foreign exchange also fall under the previous Foreign Exchange Foreign Debt Quota and therefore often cannot be used by a foreign parent company to support its Chinese subsidiary. In light of these financial restrictions, the SME Forum requests the relevant Chinese regulators to remove the regulatory obstacles that limit foreign SMEs access to fi nancing in China, such as the limitations of the Foreign Exchange Foreign Debt Quota and the strict requirement for foreign guarantees for short-term loans. Furthermore, the Forum recommends Chinese regulators to take action to encourage financial institutions to open their services to It is encouraging to hear that the European Investment Bank s objective of providing European SMEs with EUR 30 billion of loan support in the period of 2008 to 2011 was achieved by the end of 2010 (one year early). 6 The SME Forum hopes that European SMEs will continue to have access to such fi nancial support going forward and specifi cally recommends the EU to establish a dedicated fund to support European SMEs taking the risk to expand into China, leveraging their know-how, technology and brand to target an increasingly important but unpredictable market. Such financial support from the EU would complement well the EU s other initiatives for supporting European SMEs in China, such as the newly opened EU SME Centre in Beijing. 3. New Challenges for Representative Offices During 2010, Chinese regulators released a number of new rules for Representative Offices in China that have substantially increased the administrative and regulatory duties of foreign SMEs taking this legal structure in China. On 4 th January 2010, China s State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) and the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) jointly issued restrictive measures on representative offi ces of foreign companies, in which: A new limit was set on the number of Representatives to four (including the Chief Representative), forcing companies with large Representative Offices to set up companies (Joint Ventures and WFOEs). The validity of the Registration Certifi cate issued by the local Administration for Industry and Commerce (AIC) was reduced to one year (previously this ranged from three to ten years). The Foreign Company initiating the opening of a Representative Office needs to certify that it has been operating for at least two years, preventing newly formed foreign companies to enter the Chinese market through a Representative Office. On 11 th March 2010, the State Administration of Taxation (SAT) issued Interim Implementing Measures Regarding Tax Management on Permanent Representative Offices 5 8 th June 2011 CBRC announces measures to aid small businesses, China Daily 6 14 th June 2011, SMEs: The EIB group supports your financial investments, EIB website, 70

4 European Business in China Position Paper 欧 盟 企 业 在 中 国 建 议 书 2011/2012 of Foreign Enterprises, which stipulates an increase in estimated profi t from 10% to 15% for representative offi ces paying taxes on expenditures. This increases the amount of tax payable for such Representative Offices as the calculation formula is: Calculation formula = expenditures / (1 - estimated profi t rate - business tax rate) Released on 10 th November 2010 and effective on 1 st March 2011, the State Council issued the Administrative Regulations on the Registration of Permanent Representative Offices of Foreign Enterprises, which set out new requirements with respect to the registration and operation of representative offices: the local AIC requires the annual inspection of Representative Offices and the submission of an annual report that must include information on the continued existence of the representative office s head office, the representative office s business operations and audited accounts. As SMEs have less human resources to deal with such matters, this poses a further burden on the operation of SMEs compared with larger companies. 4. Regulatory Transparency and Access to Information The relatively fragmented and opaque nature of China s regulatory system makes it diffi cult for foreign companies in China to (1) access relevant regulatory information for their business (2) understand the frequent changes in the regulations, and (3) manage the high volume of administration work set by multiple regulating agencies. This is especially a burden for SMEs who often do not have the resources and expertise to effectively deal with such processes. The growing complexity of tax and accounting regulations has resulted in a complicated bureaucracy that requires an excessive number of reports to be submitted to about a dozen government agencies, covering tax declarations and many other reports. Very often the company is not adequately informed by the agencies of all the required reports (monthly and yearly), but is nevertheless required to provide detailed information. In a similar vein, certain products have to be certified and examined by different government agencies to gain access to the Chinese market. The responsibilities of such agencies and related certification requirements sometimes greatly overlap, which causes confusion of requirements, duplication of costs and effort, and delayed access to market for the companies products. SMEs find this especially burdensome as they have to allocate their already limited resources to maintain large sets of documents to prove compliance with all relevant regulators. For more details on certification and standardisation issues of products, please see the Standards & Conformity Assessment section of this Position Paper. These issues are intensifi ed by the continuously evolving nature of the Chinese regulatory system where new regulations and amendments to existing ones are implemented regularly and often without an adequate level of transparency. Keeping track and adjusting to these frequent changes is therefore a considerable challenge for SMEs. The SME Forum recommends the Chinese government to reduce the regulatory and administrative burdens of SMEs by simplifying and streamlining the regulatory processes that affect them. The Forum specifically requests the establishment of a comprehensive and easily accessible one-counter-service resource platform to provide foreign SMEs with transparency and support on the key requirements set out for them by multiple government agencies. This would greatly help SMEs to increase their effi ciency and focus on their core business. 5. Increasing Tax Burdens The unification of China s tax system for FIEs, foreign enterprises and domestic enterprises has gone a step further since the harmonisation of the enterprise income tax in 2008 to 25%. As of 1 st December 2010, foreign enterprises and FIEs have to pay the city construction tax and education surcharge for which they were previously exempted. Such tax exemptions for FIEs and foreign enterprises have often been considered by them as a welcome compromise for being limited in certain areas in China, such as in accessing fi nance and equity structure requirements in certain sectors. Whilst this recent removal of tax exemptions aims to put foreign enterprises and FIEs on an equal footing with domestic enterprises in tax terms, several of the other limitations on foreign enterprises and FIEs remain unchanged e.g. access to financing. The SME Forum calls for the Chinese government to provide foreign enterprises and FIEs with the same treatment across the board as their domestic counterparts, as with tax, to allow 71

5 all companies in China to compete on a level playing fi eld. This recent requirement to pay the city construction tax and education surcharge has increased the cost of European SMEs operating in China. The city construction tax and education surcharge are two types of surtaxes, levied on taxpayers who pay value-added tax (VAT), consumption tax and business tax. Specifically, each surtax is calculated as a percentage of the actual amount of VAT, consumption tax and business tax paid by the taxpayers. The rate for the education surcharge is 3%. The rates for city construction tax differ according to location: 7% in city areas 5% in county and township areas 1% in other areas 6. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Infringement As trade between Europe and China continues to flourish, the importance of IPR and its impact on the competitiveness of European SMEs in a global market continues to grow. European SMEs need assurance that their IPR is adequately protected on introducing their technologies, products and brands into the Chinese market. The SME Forum strongly encourages the Chinese government to continue its efforts to improve the enforcement of the existing IPR laws and regulations to tackle the persistent problem of IPR infringement in China. For more detailed information on this issue of IPR, please view the Intellectual Property Rights section of this Position Paper. or representative offi ces need to employ foreign staff with specific experience but who do not necessarily have a college or university degree. At present the law refuses to issue work visas to people without a higher degree. For more detailed information on issues related to HR and labour, please view the Human Resources section of this Position Paper. Abbreviations AIC Local Administration of Industry and Commerce CBRC Chinese Banking Regulatory Commission FIE Foreign-Invested Enterprise EU European Union HR Human Resources IPR Intellectual Property Rights MPS Ministry of Public Security SAFE State Administration of Foreign Exchange SAIC State Administration for Industry and Commerce SAT State Administration of Taxation SME Small and Medium-sized Enterprise VAT Value Added Tax WFOE Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises 7. Standards The proliferation of local standards and certifications in China that are not harmonised with international equivalents or norms represent another barrier for European SMEs willing to enter the Chinese market. The lack of reliable English translations of Chinese standards, as well as difficulties in accessing information on Chinese industry-specific standards creates additional challenges in this area. For more detailed information on the issue of standards, please view the Standards & Conformity Assessment section of this Position Paper. 8. Labour and Human Resources (HR) One of the major concerns for SMEs regarding labour is that it is more and more difficult to recruit qualified people, especially now that the 2008 Labour Law reduces flexibility in HR management. In addition, some WFOEs 72

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