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October 28, 2018

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From new ideas to new influence

WHEN a group of multinationals were invited in 1989 to advise the Mayor of Shanghai, the focus was on drawing in overseas investment and best practices. The future will be about extending out Shanghai’s influence across the Belt and Road, and beyond.

Back to the future

Back in 1989, Shanghai was a very different place to today’s city. Unrecognizable in fact.

A profile in the New York Times from November that year reported slowing foreign investment and factory layoffs. Its headline spoke of “New challenges for a City of Hope and Past Glory.” Needless to say, they called it wrong — they couldn’t know what was to come. But even then the seeds were being sown for a remarkable period of growth and transformation.

That year, the heads of a small group of multinationals made their way to Shanghai to meet Mayor Zhu Rongji to lay the foundations for the International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council, or IBLAC. Zhu had a clear and ambitious goal: to increase foreign investment and develop Shanghai as a world-class city.

This year marks IBLAC’s 30th meeting. And over that time, Shanghai has more than met its original goal. Shanghai’s world-status — like its skyline — has soared.

Open to new ideas,
and the world

How has Shanghai achieved such change in just a generation? It’s been open to new ideas and bold enough to put them into action. From establishing the Pudong New Area to pioneering China’s first Pilot Free Trade Zone — something IBLAC members advised on — Shanghai has always blazed a trail. It’s no coincidence that Shanghai was also the first Chinese city to break through the 3-trillion-yuan (US$430 billion) barrier for GDP last year.

Today, Shanghai is indisputably a world-class city: home to more than 100,000 expats, around 600 multinational regional headquarters, and nearly as many overseas R&D centers.

Thousands of companies — many Fortune-500 companies among them — will be arriving next month to visit China’s first ever Import Expo. While the city’s global financial prominence is fast-rising, with preparations for a Shanghai-London Stock Connect well underway — and the recently announced “100 measures” set to relax restrictions for foreign investors and open-up the city’s insurance, securities and banking sectors.

With so many milestones passed, it could be tempting to think job done. But that’s never been the Shanghai spirit. Nor IBLAC’s.

Which is why this year, our members were invited to put forward their ideas for the next chapter in Shanghai’s remarkable story of opening up.

Exporting influence

Under the theme “New era, new start, new action,” IBLAC members are contributing their views on how Shanghai can continue to open up and advance its, and China’s, economic globalization.

Recommendations cover every angle of our members’ areas of expertise from financial services to pharma to manufacturing and mobility and beyond. But a common thread runs through them: the past may have been about drawing in ideas and investment, the future will be about extending out Shanghai’s influence.

That comes down to two things. First, a reputation for urban excellence: for being a city where you can find talent, innovation, opportunity; where it’s great to live and easy to get things done. Second, being a city other cities look to for investment, ideas and best practice.

There is no doubt that Shanghai will succeed. Shanghai has steadily climbed indices like the Global Power City Index. While the city’s drive to build the four brands of Shanghai — services, manufacturing, shopping and culture — promises to boost its reputation further. The “four brands” initiative sets out an exciting vision of Shanghai — home to innovative services and smart manufacturing; a vibrant cultural-life and world-renowned shopping streets.

The city’s influence is set to extend even further. Its scale — in terms of population and GDP — and strengths give it a unique position as a vital hub in the Belt and Road Initiative.

And when you think of the scope of that initiative — 65 countries representing around 60 percent of the world’s population and a third of its GDP — that influence could be on a huge scale.

Stronger together

Thirty meetings is a great milestone, and I’m really proud that we’ve achieved it.

As members, we share a confidence in Shanghai’s future and recognize its importance to our own organizations.

In a world where it can appear more doors are closing than opening, IBLAC demonstrates what we can achieve when we work together — across nations, across industries and professions, and across the private and public sector.

I know all of our members look forward to continuing the Council’s great work — and to being part of Shanghai’s story for many years to come.


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