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In many cases, local foreign currency controls make it difficult to send money to China or to send money from China. Individuals are allowed to exchange renminbi (RMB) up to a value of US$50,000 into foreign currency per year. Larger transfers of money out of China are possible in many cases, including foreign tuition fees, medical or institutional membership fees, or family remittances, but approval is required from the monetary authorities.
China’s Money Transfer Regulations
A number of restrictions apply to capital account transfers, which include foreign direct investment (FDI) and stock market investment. The authorities have pledged to loosen controls on capital account transactions as part of Chinas effort to open up its financial system, but progress has been slow. Restrictions vary according to the type of investor, including both private and institutional investors, so we recommend consulting the relevant guidelines from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) which regulates the fx sector.
Foreign firms invested in China no longer need pre-approval to open accounts in foreign currencies and may hold income in foreign exchange or convert it freely to renminbi. In the past, capital account transfers required case-by-case approval from SAFE, but specific forex banks now review and execute these settlements. China caps the amount of foreign debt that companies are allowed to hold, and foreign firms are required to report their forex balance annually.
However, the central bank announced new rules in April 2014 that should make capital movement easier. Under the new rules, domestic and foreign firms with a minimum of US$100m in annual foreign exchange income will be able to transfer large sums more freely, a move that authorities hope will encourage more direct investment in China and increase the international use of the currency The renminbi rose from the 11th most traded currency globally in early 2012 to the 8th most traded currency by late 2013, with 1.5% of the total.
Despite the gradual loosening of foreign exchange controls, further liberalisation is clearly necessary if the Chinese authorities are to realise a goal of turning the renminbi into a global reserve and settlement currency. But while restrictions persist on renminbi held domestically, renminbi held offshore in Hong Kong, whose economy operates independently of mainland China as well as Taiwan and Singapore are subject to much lighter control. While not legal tender, renminbi accounts can be held in Hong Kong and it is easily convertible, with daily spot trade in offshore renminbi (CNH) reaching around $4bn in 2014 from zero in 2010 according to Deutsche Bank. Because onshore renminbi are so restricted, CNH can have a different value, often attracting a premium due to their easy convertibility. There are no restrictions on transferring renminbi between offshore accounts, converting CNH to other currencies or remitting renminbi onshore for trade settlement purposes (although transfers onshore for other purposes are subject to regulatory approval.
Trading With China
Most trade with Chinese suppliers in settled in USD, although euros are also common for sales. The swap deals agreed in recent years by the central bank, the Peoples Bank of China (PBC) with countries including the UK, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia and Brazil, have enabled firms to settle trade in local currencies rather than in US dollars. Some companies are beginning to move to RMB as discounts can be negotiated with suppliers. However, Chinese companies seem reluctant to move away from USD to RMB fearing that this might jeopardise their export rebates.
All importers in China need to apply to the SAFE for foreign currency when an export transaction takes place. The company needs to provide documents such as contracts, invoices and tax clearance/exemption certificates, before converting RMB into the appropriate foreign currency for settlement of overseas invoices. This tends to lead to a delay in payment, so trading in RMB would be faster.
According to a survey in mid 2014 by HSBC, only 14% of UK businesses already doing business in mainland China use the RMB. This is lower than the global average of 22%, as well as that for companies from France (26%), Germany (23%) and the US (17%).
China’s Regulatory Authority
The PBC manages and regulates the financial sector. It drafts laws and regulation related to the financial system, sets national monetary policy, and sets the acceptable daily exchange rate spectrum for the yuan renminbi (RMB). The central bank also regulates the banking and foreign exchange markets and ensures overall financial stability.
A separate body under the PBC umbrella, the China Banking Regulatory Commission, conducts direct supervision and guidance in the banking sector, including administration of the supervisory boards of the major public banks. The State Administration of Foreign Exchange, has direct oversight over the foreign exchange market.
China has drawn international criticism, particularly from the US, accusing it of manipulating its currency in order to achieve its domestic monetary goals. On various occasions in recent years, monetary authorities are considered to have devalued the yuan in order to make Chinese exports more competitive and encourage capital inflows. So-called currency manipulation continues to be a key point of contention in bilateral strategic and economic talks with the US.
China’s Economic Background
China has witnessed remarkable economic growth in the last thirty years. Its GDP increased tenfold between 1978-2013, making China the worlds largest exporter, and the second largest economy after the United States in 2013. China is one of the last remaining Communist governments, but the country is slowly moving away from its centrally-planned economic system in favour of free-market principles.
The government has gradually relaxed its foreign exchange policy in recent years as China opened up to the global economy. In 2005, the central bank removed the renminbis historic peg to the US dollar (USD) and adopted an exchange rate system that references a basket of currencies. China returned to its dollar peg in the early years of the global economic crisis, but reverted to its managed float system in June 2010.
Chinas currency, the yuan renminbi (RMB), is issued by the Peoples Bank of China. The currency symbols CNY and CN are also frequently used. Banknotes are issued in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 yuan (). Both coins and notes are available in denominations of 1 and 5 jiao (1/10 of a yuan) and CN1. Offshore renminbi are known as CNH.