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ASEAN-China Economic Consultation Focuses on Free Trade Area

The fourth consultation between ASEAN senior economic officials (SEOM) and China's Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) opened in Laos' capital Vientiane Sunday, focusing on the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area.


During the fourth SEOM-MOFCOM consultation, delegates mainly discussed a progress report on the establishment of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA), the draft of the ASEAN-China Trade in Services Agreement, and preparation for the upcoming 2nd China-ASEAN Trade Fair slated for mid-October in the Chinese city of Nanning, Zhang Shaogang, director of the International Trade and Economic Affairs Department under the MOFCOM, and the meeting's co-chairman, said after the closed-door consultation.


Since July 1 when the Agreement on Trade in Goods between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was implemented, many Chinese goods have penetrated into ASEAN markets, he said, noting that the two sides' trade will advance into a new chapter in the coming years as more tariffs are to be slashed or eliminated to realize the ACFTA by China and Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand by 2010, and by China and Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam by 2015 as targeted.


China and ASEAN have seen annual growth of 30-50 percent in trade in recent years, Zhang said, noting that ASEAN became China' s fourth biggest trading partner in the first half of this year with the two-way turnover reaching nearly US$59.8 billion, up 25 percent against the same period last year.


The China-ASEAN trade stood at US$105.9 billion in 2004, realizing the target of US$100 billion one year ahead the schedule.


Besides the ACFTA, during the consultation, senior economic officials from ASEAN and China discussed negotiations on trade in goods and services, and areas for investment cooperation between the two sides, said Bounsom Phommavihane, deputy director-general of the Foreign Trade Department under Laos' Commerce Ministry and the meeting's chairman.


The officials touched upon the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between China and the Philippines on the Early Harvest Program (EHP), the MoU between China and Vietnam on outstanding issues under the ACFTA Trade in Goods (TIG) Agreement, national focal points for ACFTA implementation matters, the first package of product specific rules, and notification of the ACFTA TIG Agreement to the World Trade Organization.


"I'm confident that the consultation's outcome will contribute to the closer economic cooperation between ASEAN and China in the future," said Bounsom.


The establishment of the ACFTA with a population of 1.7 billion and the gross domestic product (GDP) of more than US$2.5 trillion will offer big opportunities to all ASEAN members, since it will gradually remove trade barriers among them, and remarkably facilitate the flow of goods, services and investment, said many ASEAN officials.


The 37th ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) meeting will be held from September 28-30 in Vientiane.


The 10-member ASEAN has a population of about 500 million, a total area of 4.5 million square kilometers, a combined gross domestic product of US$737 billion, and a total trade of US$720 billion.


(Xinhua News Agency September 26, 2005)


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