China says no tough rules for foreign bank card firms

A bank customer walks out of a local bank's branch next to advertisements for its credit card in the centre of Shanghai August 10, 2009. REUTERS/Nir Elias

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will not impose tough licensing restrictions on overseas bank card providers seeking to enter the country's $7 trillion card payment market, a senior central bank official said on Tuesday.

Industry sources told Reuters in October that they were concerned the Chinese government would limit the number of licenses issued to foreign card providers and force them to operate through joint ventures with local partners.

However Fan Yifei, a vice governor at the People's Bank of China (PBOC), told a conference that there are no plans to bring in such requirements.

"We will actively and cautiously open up China's card payment market according to laws and regulations, and encourage fair competition," Fan said.

Foreign card companies, including Visa Inc <V.N> and MasterCard Inc <MA.N>, have been lobbying for more than a decade for direct access to China's fast-growing cards market, which is projected to become the world's biggest by 2020.

The State Council, China's cabinet, announced in April that China would allow foreign firms to apply to the central bank for licences to operate bank card clearing businesses from June 1, a move aimed at addressing a 2012 ruling by the World Trade Organization that found China was discriminating against U.S. credit card firms.

Currently China UnionPay Co, a state-controlled consortium, has a monopoly on all yuan payment cards issued and used in the country.

"As China opens up its market, more institutions will enter interbank clearing market. UnionPay will compete and collaborate with new joiners," Ge Huayong, chairman of China UnionPay, said following Fan's remarks at the same event.

Bank card consumer transactions stood at 42.38 trillion yuan ($6.84 trillion) last year, central bank data showed, representing an annual growth of 33 percent.

The PBOC released draft implementation regulations in July and the detailed measures will be finalized "as soon as possible", Fan said.

A spokeswoman for Visa declined to comment. Reuters could not immediately reach MasterCard for comment.

(Reporting by Clark Li, Shu Zhang and Matthew Miller; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Rachel Armstrong)