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Less than 60 percent of China's public-private projects have started

Buildings are seen through smog behind an unfinished bridge near the Yujiapu financial centre, in Tianjin, China February 22, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

BEIJING (Reuters) - Work has started on less than 60 percent of public-private partnership (PPP) projects promoted by China's central finance ministry, while the rate for local government projects is even lower, government data through the end of September shows.

Low-participation rates among private firms have long been an issue with the high-profile investment programme, with companies citing low rates of return and challenges in competing with state firms among reasons for staying on the sidelines.

Finance Ministry data released on Friday showed 58.18 percent of finance ministry projects had commenced, up from 48.4 percent in June. Meanwhile, only 26 percent of more than 10,000 PPP projects managed by local-governments had moved to the implementation phase as of the end of September.

In a commentary on Sunday, state media Xinhua said the programme needs better policies and rules in order to overcome challenges in attracting a wider variety of participants.

With private sector fixed asset investment falling to record lows this year, the central government has pledged to support private firms with a level playing field and better access to financing, among other measures.

The government needs to eliminate contradictory policies, simplify rules, and improve cash flow prospects for investors, Xinhua said.

(Reporting by Elias Glenn; Editing by Sam Holmes)