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China-ASEAN Expo propels FTA construction
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The China-ASEAN Expo has become a propeller to the China-ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Free Trade Area (FTA) construction, said an official with the Expo's organizing committee on Thursday.

Gao Hucheng, vice co-chair of the China-ASEAN Expo Organizing Committee and Chinese vice minister of Commerce, made the remarks at a press conference of the State Council's Information Office.

He said the successful four rounds of Expo have effectively transformed the FTA construction from paperwork consensus reached by state leaders to pragmatic moves of business circles, which has injected a powerful drive for the FTA's construction.

The two sides have reached an agreement to complete a China-ASEAN Free Trade Area before 2010.

The China-ASEAN FTA is the first free trade area agreement signed by China. Since the conclusion of the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation between China and ASEAN in 2002, particularly since 2004, "the FTA construction has gained year-on-year growth," Gao said.

In November 2004, both sides concluded the FTA agreement on trade in goods, which came into effect in July 2005, reducing tariff rates on 7,000 commodities. In January 2007, the FTA agreement on trade in service was also signed.

Both sides have made commitments to opening up over 60 service sectors, which are more favorable than the commitments made among World Trade Organization members, Gao noted.

In addition, negotiations on investment have gained positive results, Gao said, noting that upon its completion, the China-ASEAN FTA will witness a total economic aggregate of $5.2 trillion and a total trade volume of $4.5 trillion. With a population of 1.9 billion people, the China-ASEAN FTA will become the most populous FTA in the world, Gao said.

He also stressed that over the past five years, the Expo has always kept pace with the FTA construction.

Over 98 percent of Expo exhibits are products that are listed in the FTA tariff-reduction program.

As FTA construction has sped up, trade between China and ASEAN has maintained fast growth.

The bilateral trade volume was only 105.88 billion $in 2004, while in 2007, the number jumped to $202.5 billion , Gao said.

He pointed that as the China-ASEAN trade volume accounts for 10 percent of China's total trade volume, ASEAN has in fact become the fourth largest trading partner of China.

He said, in the first half of this year, bilateral trade volume has reached $115.789 billion, up by 25.8 percent over the same period of last year.

"As this momentum continues, ASEAN is expected to take Japan's place to be China's third largest trading partner in 2010, only after the EU and the United States," said Gao.

Li said, the fifth Expo will spotlight the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) cooperation. During the event, the Ministry of Industry and Information of China will sponsor the third China-ASEAN ICT Week as well as relevant forums.

(Xinhua News Agency August 29, 2008)

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