Citigroup said it has won permission to issue credit cards in China, a first for a foreign bank amid complaints regulators largely shut out overseas competitors from tapping the massive market.
In a statement issued late Monday, the US-based banking giant said it had received approval to issue its credit cards from industry watchdog the China Banking Regulatory Commission.
"This approval represents a significant milestone in the continued expansion of Citi's business in China," Stephen Bird, chief executive officer of Citi Asia-Pacific, said in the statement.
Citigroup, which already issues debit cards in China, said the credit card approval would give it a "strong competitive edge".
The Bank of East Asia, based in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous territory under Chinese control, is the only other non-mainland Chinese firm allowed to issue credit cards in the country of 1.3 billion.
Many foreign financial institutions have complained they are largely shut out of the Chinese market, despite Beijing partly opening the sector after the country's entry to the World Trade Organization in 2001.
In its 2011 "White Paper", the American Chamber of Commerce in China said that the country's banking industry "remains largely off-limits to outside competition".
"Though foreign banks have made some inroads into the Chinese market, even now they hold only 1.77 percent of total Chinese financial assets," the chamber said.
Citigroup expanded to three Chinese cities last year, bringing its corporate branches to 13 and its consumer outlets to 46, according to the company.
It has also received preliminary government approval for a joint venture securities firm to do investment banking in China, in cooperation with Orient Securities Co., the statement said.