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Free Trade Framework to Finish by Year-end

China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) aim to work out a framework for a free trade area before the end of the year.

The third China-ASEAN Economic Senior Official's meeting, held in Beijing on Tuesday, set up a trade negotiation committee to carry out in-depth discussions on the framework.

The trade negotiation committee was expected to have its first meeting in Beijing yesterday and today.

The committee, in a joint statement, said it will try to have the framework finalized at the China-ASEAN summit in Cambodia at the end of the year.

The framework is expected to cover a wide range of areas of co-operation in goods, services and investment, as well as other relevant areas.

"It will contain guidelines, principles, scope and modalities for establishing a free trade area, including early harvests, special and differential treatments and flexibility, while taking into account different levels of development between ASEAN countries and China," it said.

Senior officials said the decision of Chinese and ASEAN leaders to establish a free trade area is a "historic milestone in economic co-operation between China and ASEAN" and "demonstrates strong commitments made by China-ASEAN leaders to regional integration and economic globalization in the pursuit of peace and stability and prosperity in the region."

They reviewed China-ASEAN economic co-operation in the fields of agriculture, information technology, human resources development, investment and Mekong River Basin development, and noted the need to strengthen the co-ordination mechanism to make co-operative projects effective and efficient.

ASEAN officials said they appreciate China's assistance in human resources development and look forward to its further positive contribution in narrowing down the development gap between ASEAN countries.

A seminar on strengthening economic co-operation between ASEAN and China's southern provinces is to be held on June 6-7 in Kunming, Southwest China's Yunnan Province, said Chinese officials.

(China Daily May 16, 2002)

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