Policy brief

China’s state-owned enterprises and competitive neutrality

The concept of competitive neutrality can be used to assess how far a market is from being a competitive environment. In China, competitive neutrality

Publishing date
23 February 2021

As China’s economic weight continues to grow, so does the global impact of its companies. Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) produce a large share of Chinese goods and services. Given their importance both in China and increasingly globally, it should be measured whether SOEs introduce distortions into markets and how significant those distortions are. Foreign governments negotiating trade or investment deals with China need this information so they can better measure how far China is from offering a level playing field to foreign companies on its domestic market. In this context, competitive neutrality is an important working concept that can be used to asses how far a market is from being a competitive environment.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development defines a framework of competitive neutrality as one in which public and private companies face the same set of rules, and no contact with the state gives competitive advantage to any market participant. Quantifying the concept is difficult, but we provide a preliminary measure of the lack of competitive neutrality in relation to Chinese SOEs. In particular, we focus on debt and tax neutrality and compare the situation for Chinese state-owned and private firms on aggregate and sectoral levels. Our results support the view that China’s competitive environment is generally poor. The advantageous position of SOEs in China is true for most economic sectors, though to a variable extent, with the automotive sector one of the furthest away from competitive neutrality.

A working measure of competitive neutrality applied in China could help improve the level playing field for foreign companies in China. It could also be applied globally given the very large size and global footprint of Chinese SOEs. The concept could even be introduced in a potential reform of the World Trade Organisation.

About the authors

  • Alicia García-Herrero

    Alicia García Herrero is a Senior Fellow at European think-tank BRUEGEL. She is also the Chief Economist for Asia Pacific at Natixis, and a non-resident Senior Follow at the East Asian Institute (EAI) of the National University Singapore (NUS). Alicia is also Adjunct Professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Finally, she is a Member of the Council of Advisors on Economic Affairs to the Spanish Government and an advisor to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s research arm (HKIMR) among other advisory and academic positions.

    In previous years, Alicia held the following positions: Chief Economist for Emerging Markets at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA), Member of the Asian Research Program at the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), Head of the International Economy Division of the Bank of Spain, Member of the Counsel to the Executive Board of the European Central Bank, Head of Emerging Economies at the Research Department at Banco Santander, and Economist at the International Monetary Fund. Alicia has maintained a part-time academic life throughout her career as Visiting Professor at John Hopkins University (SAIS program), at the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai, Carlos III University in Madrid among others.

    Alicia holds a PhD in Economics from George Washington University and has published extensively in refereed journals and books (her publications can be found in ResearchGateGoogle ScholarSSRN or REPEC).

    Alicia is also very active in international media (Bloomberg and CNBC among others) as well as social media (Twitter and LinkedIn). Alicia was included in the TOP Voices in Economy and Finance by LinkedIn in 2017 and #6 Top Social Media leader by Refinitiv in 2020.

  • Gary Ng

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