Fortis Investment Management, the mutual funds management unit of Fortis, the Belgian-Dutch financial group, has announced that Chinese regulators have granted it a license to open an office in Shanghai.

Fortis is the first European fund management company to be given a license in China, according to Fortis. It will open its first office there sometime in 2001, the company said.

China is expected to soon join the World Trade Organization and has promised to gradually open its fund industry to foreign competitors, Fortis said. China has so far allowed only 10 new domestic fund management companies to raise 50 billion yuan, about $6 billion, in closed-end mutual funds, the company said.

Fortis said it has held discussions with some Chinese fund managers and securities houses regarding establishing a joint venture there sometime next year.

The first open-ended mutual fund is expected to be introduced in China in 2001. A large share of China's six trillion yuan ($724.9 billion) in savings is expected to be invested in the country's stock market, Fortis said. In addition, hundreds of billions of yuan held in pension funds could be invested in the stock market if it is authorized by the government, the company said.

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