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Foreign insurer sets up in Chongqing
( 2004-01-16 09:14) (China Daily by Huo Yongzhe)

Liberty Mutual Insurance Co, the second largest US-based international property insurer, launched its first Chinese non-life insurance business in Chongqing yesterday, making it the first foreign insurer to debut its products in western China's business hub.

The launch marks a major achievement for Liberty Mutual as it had long been vying to enter the Chinese market. Prior to the move, the company submitted and refreshed its application in late 2000 and early 2002 and finally got the green light to open a branch from the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) in November last year.

The move also highlights the accelerated opening-up of China's insurance sector in western China, which is still billed as a less developed region for China's fragile insurance sectors.

Different from other life insurers that need to establish joint ventures with domestic partners, the Boston-based insurer's wholly-owned branch in Chongqing will introduce its non-life insurance products developed in other markets locally.

Backed by Liberty Mutual's insurance subsidiaries and associates in America, Europe and Asia, the Chongqing branch will provide commercial and consumer insurance services to both large and small enterprises and households, said Edmund F Kelly, chairman and president of Liberty Mutual, who made the special trip for the opening ceremony.

"The company will develop all non-life businesses, including property, workers compensation, employer compensation and marine insurance with the exception of personal auto insurance into the local market," said Kelly.

Liberty Mutual, with two foreign rivals, received approval in late 2002 to prepare to open a branch in China. That made the firm the first foreign insurer to receive the green light to extend its business in west China.

China is essential to our aspirations in Asia, said Kelly.

Apart from Chongqing, the company has also established two representative offices in Beijing and Shanghai, which are believed to be among the branch's expansion targets.

"Opening in Beijing will be a wonderful opportunities for us", said Kelly, when asked about the next target for business expansion in China.

But he also said that the company is looking for other targets in western China, but declined to clarify.

"And provinces in North China and coastal areas will be our other preferred choices," said Kelly."

Apart from insurance sectors, the company has also made important direct investments in China since 1998, when it established Liberty Pacific Direct Investment Ltd to make direct investments focused on western China.

In 2000, the firm invested US$57 million to become the only US company to make a strategic investment in the initial public offering of PetroChina.

And the company also joined with the Hong Kong-based New World Group and the Asian Development Bank to form New World Liberty China Ventures Ltd and tap direct investment opportunities in small and medium-sized private companies in western China.

As one of the world's leading providers of workers' compensation insurance and programmes, Liberty Mutual will work with Chinese partners to promote work safety and reduce occupational injuries, said John Kimber, head of Liberty Mutual's China business.

The company offers a wide range of products worldwide -- including commercial insurance and services, group products, personal insurance and individual life products.

Its property and casualty products cover automobiles, properties, general liabilities, fidelities, sureties and crimes, financial products and other property programmes.

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