China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Luxembourg’s financial centre

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What can China’s One Belt and One Road Initiative (BRI) mean for financial services in Luxembourg?

“We are still [in the process of] understanding the width and depth of BRI”, said the Luxembourg Minister of Finance Pierre Gramegna on Friday about China’s comprehensive trade proposal that aims to create the world’s largest economic platform.

Attending an event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and China-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce (ChinaLux) to introduce and explore the opportunities brought by BRI in Luxembourg, Gramegna talked about the vision behind the concept proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.

"Green finance is a field where China and Luxembourg have a lot in common," says Gramegna.
“Green finance is a field where China and Luxembourg have a lot in common,” says Gramegna.
Photo: Lex Kleren

“BRI is a generational matter,” he said, further adding that unlike Europe and the Unites States, China has a long-term vision in doing business and spans over one or two generations.

And the proof of how important BRI is for the Chinese government came last October at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China where the development programme was enshrined into the party’s constitution.

BRI’s grandeur was acknowledged by all event participants in Luxembourg. In his opening speech, Dirk Dewitte, the President of ChinaLux, described BRI as “a very ambitious programme”, while Professor Bo Ji, Assistant Dean at Global Executive Education and Chief Representative for Europe at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, called it”a new national strategy” for China.

Sascha Bremer, Market Intelligence Advisor at Luxembourg For Finance argued that BRI will connect China to Europe and help expand China’s footprint abroad. Over 65 countries are thought to be involved in the project, with China making an investment worth $124 billion ( €106 billion).

On Friday, Professor Ji pointed out that China’s outward foreign direct investment stock in Luxembourg amounts to €7.6 billion, representing 47.7 % of China’s investments in the eurozone.

While BRI will allow for more Chinese investments in Eastern Europe, trading activities along the BRI routes are expected to exceed $25 trillion a year within the next decade.

According to Bo Ji, BRI is here to stay because it is “strategically important” for the Chinese government. He added that “China seeks to become an international power by 2040” and wishes to “assume global leadership”.

Sascha Bremer, Market Intelligence Advisor at Luxembourg For Finance, moderated a panel discussion with a number of senior representatives of Chinese banks present in Luxembourg and members of the local financial industry.

Luxembourg’s role in BRI

But what opportunities can China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative (BRI) bring for financial services in Luxembourg?

More concretely, the impact of BRI for commercial banks will translate into enhanced trading and financial operations, which is why Ji believes Luxembourg could play the role of a “major hub for Europe and Asia”, and the role of renminbi will increase as well.

Ji explains that as connectivity improves across Eurasian states, through investment in logistics and road infrastructure, global trade will rise and this will lead to the creation of jobs.

Luxembourg can play a significant role in supporting these activities. Minister Gramegna believes that Luxembourg, as a “very stable country” and “reliable partner”, has many advantages within the BRI programme.

Yves Maas, Chairman at the Luxembourg Bankers’ Association (ABBL), shares Gramegna’s opinion and stresses Luxembourg’s attractiveness for Chinese investors due to its “certain neutrality”, business-minded regulator, and the well-developed ecosystem of financial services, lawyers, consultants and start-ups.

Fintech and e-commerce

The finance minister also talked about the access that Luxembourg can provide to the European single market and its increasing role as a hub for IT companies, payment services and e-commerce.

“Chinese companies are very interested in the open European IT market of 550 million consumers”, he said.

“Amazon, Paypal, Rakuten and many others have chosen our country already quite a few years ago, to reach out to all these customers and will continue to do so in the future,” said Gramegna.

Ning Wang is the Chief Business Officer and Chief Financial Officer at PingPong Europe.
Ning Wang is the Chief Business Officer and Chief Financial Officer at PingPong Europe.
Photo: Lex Kleren

Ning Wang, Chief Business Officer and Chief Financial Officer at PingPong Europe, acknowledged that Luxembourg has a “very forward-looking” approach.

Ping Pong is the first Chinese fintech having established its European offices in Luxembourg. The company, which operates in the field of electronic payments and supports Chinese e-commerce sellers, was granted a payment institution license in Luxembourg last September.

Green finance

Gramegna also pointed out that there is a lot of potential to work and expand activities on green finance and fintech activities between Luxembourg and China.

“Green finance is a field where China and Luxembourg have a lot in common,” he added.

Last June, the Luxembourg Stock Exchange (LuxSE) and Shanghai Stock Exchange signed an agreement to launch a green bond index that synchronously displays in China and Europe.

Easy access

“The logistics sector is key to make BRI a success,” added Gramegna, who went on to say that “what counts for companies is easy access to market”.

And Chinese financial services show a strong interest to come to Luxembourg due to its cross-border business approach. “The Chinese Finance Ministry is eager to deepen the cooperation with us in the implementation of One Belt, One Road,” Gramegna said.

Photo: Shutterstock

Lyu Ke, Deputy Head of Corporate Banking and Director of Chinese Corporate and Acquisition Finance Division at Bank of China Luxembourg, explained that China wants to be “bosom friends” with Luxembourg, and the other countries involved in BRI.

And in the context of Brexit and the uncertainty around the future trade agreement between the UK and the EU, ABBL’s Maas argues that Luxembourg doesn’t seek to replace London, but rather wants to be seen as a “complementary” hub.

While both Brexit and China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative are ‘work in progress’, a 2016 Deloitte report claims that Luxembourg is the “perfect gateway for Chinese outbound activities” and that the two countries will continue to strengthen their relations “to the mutual benefit of their respective economies.”

Luxembourg-Chinese relations

Since 1979, when the Bank of China was the first Chinese banking institution to open an office in Luxembourg – also marking its first presence in continental Europe – Luxembourg-Chinese relations in financial services have strengthened considerably, notably over the last few years.

In October 2017, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China listed at LuxSE the first ever climate bond dedicated to green projects within BRI. And last August China Everbright Bank was cleared to open a subsidiary in Luxembourg, making it the seventh bank to have chosen Luxembourg for its European operations.

Luxembourg is the second-largest global domicile of investment funds investing into mainland China, after Hong Kong, and the largest European listing centre for renminbi, or dim sum, bonds.

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