China says it will ease restrictions on credit cards in a move that might give Visa, MasterCard and other foreign competitors greater access to the Chinese consumers. Foreign companies will be allowed for the first time to apply to set up credit card clearing operations in China, according to a Cabinet announcement late Wednesday. It gave no details of what qualifications would be required for a foreign competitor to be approved or when licenses might be issued. Beijing's restrictions have given a monopoly on credit card processing to a state-owned entity, UnionPay. All banks are required to participate in UnionPay and all transactions must be processed through it. The World Trade Organization, ruling on a complaint by the United States, said two years ago the restrictions violated China's free-trade commitments by treating foreign credit card processors unequally. The government said it would review the decision but did little to increase market access. Despite their lack of market access, foreign credit card companies are promoting themselves to Chinese consumers who can use their cards abroad. Visa was a sponsor of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and Mastercard paid to have a former Olympic sports facility renamed the Mastercard Center.
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