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China, ASEAN Trade to Reach US$200b by 2008
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As the third China-ASEAN Expo is drawing near, a Burmese furnisher is busy transporting his rosewood furniture to Nanning, capital of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.


"I hope it sells well and this trip as fruitful as before," said 42-year-old Min Thein in fluent Chinese. He had raked in over 500,000 yuan (US$62,500) in the previous two sessions of the Expo.


Min Thein's experience mirrors the expanding trade between China and ASEAN countries over the past decade as China's economy booms. Trade experts estimate that China-ASEAN trade may well reach the US$200 billion target by 2008, two years ahead of the scheduled time.


"Development of China-ASEAN bilateral trade is so fast that it already outpaced the growth of foreign trade in China," said Gao Hucheng, Vice Minister of the State Ministry of Commerce.


Chinese statistics show that from 1990 to 2005, China-ASEAN trade volume surged at an average of 22 percent on year-on-year basis, four percentage points higher than the growth rate of China's overall foreign trade volume in the corresponding period.


China-ASEAN trade volume in last year hit US$130.3 billion, up 23 percent from 2004 and roughly 16 times of the figure in 1991. In the first three quarters this year, two-way trade between China and ASEAN countries topped US$116.3 billion.


Currently, China and ASEAN are each other's fourth largest trading partner. Analysts attributed the trade surge to a number of factors.


Chai Yu, director of the economics office of the Asia-Pacific Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, noted that one leading reason is the warming-up political relationship between China and ASEAN members.


China and ASEAN are bent on cementing the "strategic partnership orientated to peace and prosperity", which could lay a solid foundation for deepening of trade cooperation between the two sides, he said.


"The traded products between China and ASEAN are changing from raw products to finished industrial products, especially mechanical, electrical or high-tech products", said the professor.


By 2005, mechanical, electrical or high-tech products have racked up 60 percent and 45 percent of the total China-ASEAN trade volume of the two sides respectively.


In addition, the professor the speed-up of the China-ASEAN free trade area has also contributed to the fast growth.


China and six old ASEAN member countries -- Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand -- will impose zero tariffs on most normal products by 2010, while China and the other four new ASEAN members -- Cambodia Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam -- will do the same in 2015.


The China-ASEAN free trade area will have a total population of 1.8 billion and a combined gross national product of US$2 trillion upon its completion in 2010. It is expected to be the third largest market in the world, after the European Union and the North American free trade area.


(Xinhua News Agency October 30, 2006)


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