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China Reorganizes Domestic and Export Trade Agencies - 2003-03-10

China's legislature has approved a plan for restructuring government departments to trim bloated bureaucracy. The significant change is the merger of the foreign and domestic trade ministries to better handle growing commerce as a member of the World Trade Organization.

Delegates at China's annual legislative meeting passed a restructuring plan Monday.

The number of ministries have been cut by one to 28. The major changes involve creating the Ministry of Commerce by merging the trade departments of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation with the State Economic and Trade Commission, which handles domestic commerce.

There will also be a cabinet-level agency to oversee China's mostly government-owned banks, which are burdened with hundreds of billions of dollars in bad loans.

This is just the latest of several rounds of government reforms that began in 1982 and have eliminated or dramatically changed dozens of agencies.

The restructuring reflects how much two decades of economic and market reforms have changed China. The agency once charged with implementing the communist centrally planned economy is now called the Development and Reform Commission. Its new mission is to push China further into a market economy.

Businesses applauded the moves. The vice chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, Kim Woodart, said such changes will make it easier to do business in China and help the country's economy continue its rapid growth. "I'm very optimistic about the direction that China is going with the reform process and I believe that the economy will continue on track to grow in a relatively strong way. "

Chinese leaders say growth is crucial to create new jobs for the tens of millions of people thrown out of work by the collapse of many of China's state-owned companies.

At the current session of China's National People's Congress, leaders say fighting poverty and solving the looming unemployment problem are top priorities.