China's central bank issued regulations on bank card clearing, opening the process to foreign firms in a bid to boost fairness and improve services.
Chinese and foreign firms can apply to become bank card clearing institutions and they will enjoy the same treatment in regards to qualification, procedure and operation management, said a statement on the website of the People's Bank of China.
By the end of 2015, China had issued 5.44 billion bank cards, which were used to make 55 trillion yuan ($8.38 trillion) in transactions, about 48 percent of all retail sales, it said.
The move follows regulations issued by the State Council in April last year.
Clearing companies connect banks, shops and card users, and settle transactions by turning the promise of payment into actual transfer of money from one bank to another. Their profits come mainly from commission.
Currently, only China UnionPay, the national bank card association founded in 2002, is approved by the central bank to provide clearing services for bank card transactions.
China promised to reform its payments clearing market in 2012.
At an executive meeting of the State Council in October 2014, China decided to allow domestic and foreign companies, which met certain requirements, to apply to set up bank card transaction clearing institutions.
Market insiders believe foreign penetration will further elevate competition in the business as "third party payment" companies, Alibaba's Alipay in particular, which offer convenient and free online payment services, are already eating into the user base of traditional card transactions.
(Xinhua News Agency June 7, 2016)