New rules, unveiled yesterday at a government news conference in Beijing, impose a licensing regime on market researchers.

The move signals official Chinese concern at the freedom previously enjoyed by the country’s unconstrained market research industry – especially with regard to assignments for foreign-owned companies. Forays into politically sensitive areas such as public confidence in the government or the economy are not flavor of the month.

Decreed Zhai Ligong, deputy director of China's State Statistical Bureau: “Some foreign market research has been of poor quality. At other times, the research has been used to hurt our country's national security and the greater interest of the public.”

Accordingly, as of October 1, market researchers undertaking assignments for foreign companies must obtain a government licence. In addition, all companies are required to provide the SSB with a detailed bi-monthly schedule of their research projects, and could be compelled to disclose their findings to the government.

But many believe the latest regulations to be less draconian than earlier restrictions, since they call for reporting research projects every two months, rather than on a project-by-project basis. Says Simon Yum, Shanghai-based executive director for ACNeilsen, Shanghai, one of the twenty-nine licensed companies: “These new rules are much easier than we expected.”

News source: Wall Street Journal