I was recently invited to attend a conference in Beijing titled “International Workshop on the Reform of Administrative Approval System and Government Regulation” co-hosted by the Zhejiang University Guanghua Law School and the Chinese Journal of Law. Zhejiang University graciously funded the full cost of the travel and conference participation for me and several other US and European legal experts. The conference aimed to explore foreign approaches to administrative licensing and Chinese innovations in licensing at the provincial level, highlighting potential avenues for reform. In 2003, the Standing Committee of the 10th National People’s Congress adopted the Administrative License Law (ALL), which provided a general framework for administrative licensing (making China the first nation to adopt a comprehensive licensing program). ALL contains numerous innovations, including provisions on public notice and participation, written decision and hearing requirements, timeliness rules, electronic access provisions, and private sector alternatives to government licensing. In the wake of ALL, various Chinese provinces have made significant strides in reducing the number of separate licensing requirements and making existing requirements less onerous, and Chinese scholars are interested in generalizing from these experiences and drawing on the expertise of foreign legal experts to further streamline and enhance the licensing system.
I participated in the conference as part of a United States delegation that also included Professor Jack Beermann (Boston University School of Law), Neysun Mahboubi (Center for the Study of Contemporary China at the University of Pennsylvania), and Carol Ann Siciliano (Environmental Protection Agency). Professors Gordon Anthony (Queen’s University Belfast School of Law) and Colin Scott (University College Dublin School of Law) also participated in the conference, offering the UK and European perspectives on administrative licensing. In addition, several professors and government officials from China and Taiwan gave presentations. My presentation specifically focused on the economic basis for governmental licensing, examining potential private sector alternatives to a governmental licensing regime and exploring mechanisms for preserving economic incentive structures to the greatest extent feasible within licensing programs. To illustrate these principles, I addressed several of the Administrative Conference’s recommendations on licensing and permitting, including Recommendation 73-6 (on disposing of recurrent licensing-related issues via generic proceedings), Recommendation 84-1 (on streamlining licensing decisions by coordinating the efforts of multiple agencies [including state and local licensing authorities] and stakeholders), and Recommendations 94-1 and 2012-7 (on employing self-auditing and third-party certification as alternatives to administrative licensing).
On the whole, the conference illustrated a number of important innovations in administrative licensing and highlighted further opportunities for reform. For instance, a representative from the City of Ningbo discussed reforms that involved a reduction of licensing requirements by two-thirds and streamlining of existing licensing restrictions. Participants also seemed quite interested in learning from the experiences of the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and Taiwan in enacting further reforms and asked probing questions that highlighted potential points of overlap between the Chinese and foreign licensing programs. These innovations should ultimately prove exceedingly beneficial to US and other foreign businesses wishing to transact business in China: the US-China Business Council regularly identifies issues with administrative licensing as one of the top two problems confronting US businesses with operations in China, and administrative reform should both improve the efficiency of the existing regime and open it to greater participation by foreign corporations. As such, US stakeholders should welcome the momentum for licensing reform building China, and the conference provided a forum for exploring some of the most promising ideas in this arena.