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China-ASEAN Free Trade Area Gathers Momentum

Chinese Commerce Minister Lu Fuyuan made a speech at the 2nd China-ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) Meeting yesterday, reaffirming China's determination to further enhance economic cooperation with ASEAN member countries.

Lu said that in the recent years, trade and economic relations between China and ASEAN have been developing steadily and rapidly.

The China-ASEAN trade volume hit US$54. 8 billion in 2002, up 31.8 percent year-on-year. Although impacted by the outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in some countries and regions, China's trade with ASEAN still maintained a rapid growth trend in the first half of this year, and the trade volume reached to US$34.24 billion, up 45.3 percent compared with the same period last year.

"ASEAN has been China's fifth largest trading partner for 10 years, and became the fourth largest supplier for China,'' Lu said. "ASEAN now has become China's largest trade partner among the developing countries.''

He said that the signing of the China-ASEAN Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Co-operation on November 4, 2002 "marked the formal launch of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area, and will sure to promote the trade and economic co-operation between China and ASEAN into a new stage.''

Lu expressed his satisfaction with the progress on the negotiations of the establishment of ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA). He is confident that the ACFTA will be set up in due time.

He said that China is willing to develop a comprehensive co-operation relations with ASEAN and determines to make efforts together with ASEAN countries to achieve common economic prosperity and social progress.

It is the second consultation between China and the ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM), the first one being held in Brunei in September 2002.

Lu co-chaired the second consultative meeting with his Cambodian counterpart Cham Prasidh and held talks with economic ministers from 10 ASEAN member countries.

The ASEAN-China Free Trade Area, when completed in 2010, will be the world's largest market with 1.7 billion consumers.

"Given that ASEAN-China trade was increasing at a rate of 45 percent for the first half of this year, trade volume by the year end was expected to surpass the US$70 billion,'' said a joint statement issued after the meeting.

The ministers expressed their satisfaction over the progress on the negotiations for the ACFTA. They are confident that the negotiations will be completed well within the deadlines.

Meanwhile, the progress made in other areas of economic co-operation also pleased the ministers, specifically in the areas as agriculture; information and communication technology; human resource development; investment; and the Mekong River basin development.

The ministers, encouraged by the rapid growth of trade and investment flows between ASEAN and China, reaffirmed their determination to advance economic co-operation especially in the area of trade and investment.

Lu attended the 6th ASEAN Economic Ministers and Ministers of China, Japan and South Korea Consultation yesterday afternoon.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam.

(China Daily September 4, 2003)

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