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Ningbo-- business center reshaped by opening up
--Ningbo’s commercial economy over past four decades
2018-12-23Text Size: A A A

Children at Ningbo Shopping Festival

Busy Fruit Wholesale Market at the End of the Year (by Xu Zhanxin)


Company Representatives from Many Other Developing Countries Visiting Ningbo’s Zhoushan Port Right Before the First China International Import Expo

Ningbo: China 2018 Ten Top Demonstration City for Business Environment

Tianyi Plaza: Bolster Ningbo’s Business to Another Level

(by Yu Rongqun)

In response to the trumpet of reform and opening up which began 40 years ago, Ningbo, since then, has been gradually opening its door to the outside world by focusing on port development and employing that to boost municipal economy, which, in turn, presented the power of reform and opening up to the general populace.

Be the four decades flying as swift as a moment, the city’s memories never fade away. From the first batch of coastal open cities, Belt and Road Initiative Comprehensive Experimental Area, to “16+1” Economic and Trade Cooperation Demonstration Zone, Ningbo, keeping pace with the times and always forging ahead, has not only produced the legend of “one in four of Ningbo people must be engaged in the foreign trade field,” but also has been leading in expanding the width and depth so as to enhance the quality and level of its opening.

Known as Mingzhou in the ancient time, Ningbo was a place swarming with businessmen and affluent people, and a traffic hub for marine and river transportation, which together has fertilized Ningbo’s soil for business and trade. Ningbo, in the modern time, has been marching to a higher level by countless reforms and innovations, and is bound to regain its previous glory.

Golden four decades for Ningbo’s business and trade

■ In 1984 and 1987 respectively, Ning was first included in the first batch of coastal open cities and then was specially designated in the state plan, which has marked Ningbo’s striding into the first front of China’s reform and opening up, as well as bolstered its business and trade system reform and business pattern innovation.

■ After that, rising from Ningbo were the first batch of foreign-invested “business magnates”, with Ningbo Hualian Commercial Building, the first physical store of the chain business Sanjiang Shopping emerging in the city, and with the first foreign-invested supermarket Metro established in Yinzhou District, and Jinguang Building opening in Sanjiangkou.

■ Today’s household names like Tianyi Plaza, Old Bund District, Yinzhou Wanda appeared on after another. With Moon Lake Garden, Century Oriental Plaza, and Heyi Avenue Shooping Center following, they together have formed the cornerstone for Ningbo’s key business circle from its central, northern, southern, eastern and western parts.

■ From the First CEE (Central and Eastern European) Specialty Exhibition, to China-CEE Investment and Trade EXPO, to the official start of China’s first “16+1” Economic and Trade Cooperation Demonstration Zone in Ningbo on June of 2018, Ningbo, within a just a few years, has been opening itself and embracing the outside world so much that its achievements in opening have traveled abroad.

■ In 2018, Ningbo Municipal Commission of Commerce has released the three-year plan for upgrading and transforming the wholesale and retail industry, which is to achieve 3 trillion yuan in total commodity sales and 540 billion in total retail sales of consumer goods by 2020.


Profound changes thanks to system reform

Before the reform and opening up, shortage in food and necessity supply, and the plethora of tickets for exchanging daily necessities have brought many difficulties to the economic and social development as well as people’s life.

After 1978 when reform and opening up happened, the silver lining eventually came. A series of reforms has been implemented nationwide to adjust social business structure and loose the control on prices of some commodities, preliminarily forming the “Three Multiple One Fewer” circulation scope, with state cooperation business remaining dominant, that features multiple economic patterns, multiple types of operation, multiple circulation channels, and fewer procedures. Also, Ningbo has been improving the wholesaling link, gradually reforming on service industry systems like business and catering, and in the meanwhile enlarging company autonomy to involve the “invisible hand” of market more to all links of commodity circulation. In 1979, after renewing rural fairs, the city has also opened urban fair market, and with the number of rural and urban fairs rising to 272 within four years, the fair trade volume has registered 298 million yuan.

After that, Ningbo has reached two significant milestones. In 1984 and 1987 respectively, Ning was first included in the first batch of coastal open cities and then was specially designated in the state plan, which has marked Ningbo’s striding into the first front of China’s reform and opening up, as well as bolstered its business and trade system reform and business pattern innovation.

Before the reform and opening up, Ningbo, as a remote coastal city which only occupied some sea-defense significance, did not attract any major investment or were allowed to issue large-scale construction, which significantly restricted its foreign trade and foreign capital inducement.

Thanks to the spring breeze of reform and opening up, Ningbo, after being listed in the first batch of coastal open cities, thrived on export-oriented enterprises as the first batch of foreign trade companies with importing and exporting rights was established, the first group of Sino-foreign joint ventures opened, as well as the city’s first independent labor output business completed.

In the meanwhile, it surprised people that the bastion of forbidding commodity purchases and sales has been gradually collapsing, and a new era featuring abundant resources and prosperous lives awaited ahead. By the end of 1990, the ratio of market sales to municipal total retail sales of consummer goods had risen to 32.1%, making market an important consumption place for people. 

A large variety of business blocks prospered in the city. In 1987, places like Zhongshan Road, Lingqiao Road, Jiangxia Street, Yaohang Street, Zhongshan West Road, Jiefang South Road, Baizhang Road, Renmin Road have become major areas for daily consumption, and concentrated business stores also emerged in 22 ordinary streets and alleys, such as Zhenming Road, Kaiming Street, Jiefang North Road, Xianxue Street, Daqing Road, and Shuguang Road. As the market expanded and demands varied, many traditional companies embarked on the marketization path. Beauty and hairdressing industries have one after another ended their state-run and collective system in the late 1990s; the pawn business restarted in the August of 1988 when Ningbo’s first modern pawnshop was established.

At that time, profound changes happened, and everything took on a new look.


Rapid development through market economy

After a decade of exploration and development, the concept of reform and opening up, with the influence of planned economy fading, has been embedded in very vein of the city. Ningbo advances with an inexhaustible supply of energy when its former rough and muddy stone road has been substituted with broad and flat expressway.

As foreign investment volume increased, its related realms broadened, and quality enhanced, Ningbo has shifted from a city with no foreign investment at all to a strong one in attracting such investment.

With large supermarkets springing up, reform and opening-up also aims at rural fields. In 1993, the Meeting on Non-Staple Food was organized when the Market Basket Program was launched. Ningbo, jumping at this opportunity, not only added another 164 acres of vegetable base, but focused on high quality and standardization, making its base free from drought and flood even when it did not rain for 60 days, or the rainfall hit 120 mm within 24 hours, and making  the greenhouse area of the total vegetable planting area reach 50%.

Ningbo’s total retail sales of consumer goods stood at 5.498 billion yuan in 1990, and climbed to 31.336 billion after eight years, a consecutive three years of which surpassed 38%, demonstrating staggering developing speed.

Apart from being a business center, the combination of Ningbo’s thriving manufacturing industry and port resources has just boosted its open economy and enabled it to be a provincial or even a national leader. A portside industrial system, including petrochemical, power, steel, paper, and building material companies, has been established.

Radical changes were about to happen.


An open and ambitious city of commerce

As restrictions on import and export trade were relaxed, Ningbo’s open economy was well in progress, with foreign trade becoming an attractive feature. More and more people held the belief that a stunning rise awaited Ningbo in the future

However, things suddenly changed for the worse when the financial crisis gripped Asia in 1998, which resulted in excess inventory, poor sales and financial strain.

In the midst of the financial storm, a bright rainbow rose in the sky. The State Council mapped out the plan for Ningbo’s urban development from 1995 to 2010, and Ningbo was defined as a modern international port city, a national historic and cultural city and an economic center in the south wing of the Yangtze River Delta.

China became a member of WTO in December 2001. The next year, Ningbo’s total foreign trade reached 10 billion yuan, and it passed the 50 billion mark in 2007, showing irresistible momentum.

At the beginning of the new millennium, the tenth five-year plan for Ningbo’s commerce and trade development was launched in February 2001, and the target, which was to become a center of modern commerce and trade in the south wing of the Yangtze River Delta, was set for Ningbo. It was advocated for the first time that a market driven by trade was needed for a city of commerce. Ningbo government adapted to the circumstance and made adjustments accordingly, focusing on the construction of a large market, better circulation and great commerce and trade, which was an ambitious move towards a brighter future of Ningbo’s business.

The business in Ningbo was reshaped and reborn as a new blueprint was created. In 2002, Tianyi Plaza opened for business. In 2005, the construction of Waitan streets was completed. In 2006, Wanda Plaza opened in Yinzhou District. These emerging landmarks that are now household names, along with Moon Lake Garden, Century Oriental Plaza and Heyi Avenue Shopping Center that followed, serve as pillars supporting the commerce in the central, eastern, southern and northern areas of Ningbo.

It was at that time that the commerce and trade enterprises in Ningbo began to engage in e-commerce. Ningbo was listed as one of the pilot cities for e-commerce in China, and Ningbo government rolled out the plan to facilitate information technology in the commerce and trade system in Ningbo, allowing more traditional enterprises with curiosity about e-commerce to make bold moves.

While offline transaction kept growing, online transaction emerged. Eligible to hold large-scale trade fairs and exhibitions, Ningbo successfully held the first food expo, the first sea food fair, the first shopping festival and the first gourmet festival. Over the course of more than a decade, these trade fairs and exhibitions have adopted different names and have been improved and upgraded. Now, they have evolved into important barometers of Ningbo’s consumer market and windows to the outside world.


Strive forward in Transformation

In 2008, the international financial crisis broke out and Ningbo, a leading force in opening-up, bore the brunt of its influences. In 2009, the city’s foreign trade export recorded a negative growth, the first time ever. This incurred question that whether the city’s foreign trade growing model has encountered its bottleneck after years of splendid achievements. 

Almost in the same period, the commodity circulation industry in Ningbo came to a crossroads of transformation. On the one hand, the social goods retailing volume exceeded 170.4 billion yuan and the per-capita disposable income of the city’s residents reached 30,166 yuan, increasing by 26.89 times and 15 times respectively within two decades. On the other hand, new concepts were bubbling up due to new technologies and retailing modes were changing at a faster pace. Therefore, to catch up with their counterparts, enterprises had to remain vigilant and make constant efforts. This was also true with the city. To make further progress, it had to sharpen its competitive edge by breaking previous restrictions in its system, policy and market. Sticking to its direction and moving on, Ningbo found the source of stability amid questions. 

Since 2008, while combating with the impacts of the financial crisis, Ningbo has established Hangzhou Bay New Area, Meishan Bonded Port (International Marine Ecology Technology City), national high and emerging technology area (New Materials Technology City), and other major platforms. In addition, the city has introduced high-level research & development institutions and industrial projects, leading the transformation and upgrading process of the economy through major platforms and industries. In 2010, the city came to top in the province in terms of foreign trade volume which totaled 82.9 billion dollars. Three years later, the volume first topped one hundred billion dollars, making Ningbo the third city after Shanghai and Suzhou to achieve this. 

 Attracted by the Belt and Road Initiative, Ningbo is accelerating its pace to build an international trade hub. A golden age of development is beckoning the city in its opening-up process.

Giving priority to the Central and Eastern Europe, Ningbo has held the first CEC Specialty Trade Show and China – CEEC Investment and Trade Expo, and has started to build the first “16+1” Economic and Trade Cooperation Demonstration Zone in the country in June, 2018. The last few years have witnessed Ningbo achieving solid progress in opening-up, making itself known by the whole world.

Transformation is also remarkable in commerce and trade. In 2014, the city first came up with the concept of “E-commerce Market Expansion” so as to life the position of e-commerce in commodity circulation. In 2016, the concept of “The First Year of a Live-Streaming Era” was proposed so that business transaction can be finished in live-streaming.

In the crisis, many employees were squeezed out of the market, an increasing number of e-commerce met with deadly failure, and some emerging retailing enterprises were confronted with quick defeat. Those survivors, however, won broad market and thus benefited from a new round of transformation and upgrading.

On the lengthy and bumpy road of transformation, while enterprises need to explore their own path, government also needs to come up with plans to lead the course. In 2018, the city’s business council launched a three-year action plan for the wholesale and retail industries to transform and upgrade. The plan envisioned that by 2020, total sales of wholesale and retail trade would reach 3 trillion yuan and total retail sales of consumer goods 540 billion yuan. In addition, 10 urban intelligent business circles and 30 special commercial blocks would be established by then. In 2018 when trade protectionism flares up, the city government has launched a series of new policies to stabilize foreign trade. Having accustomed to ups and downs, enterprises in the city believed that, “Confidence is even more valuable than gold.” and “It is a good opportunity for enterprises to seek development in plight.” 

Forty years have passed, ushering in a new era. Only by staying committed to the goals and progressing with keen determination can the city move up the path of transformation and lead the course of opening up in the new era. 

Ningbo, a city of commerce, is writing new history in the process of opening up.

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