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Free Trade Goal by 2010 Reaffirmed
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China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are determined to establish a Free Trade Area (FTA) by 2010 as scheduled, according to a joint statement issued yesterday.


It was inked by China and ASEAN countries following a summit commemorating the 15th anniversary of the establishment of China-ASEAN dialogue.


When the FTA is established, the trading bloc will encompass a combined population of nearly 2 billion people and a gross domestic product of more than US$2 trillion.


The FTA consists of trade in goods liberalization by 2010 for China and six traditional ASEAN members Singapore, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand and by 2015 for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Viet Nam, according to the statement.


China and ASEAN pledged to work expeditiously towards agreements to liberalize trade in services covering various sectors; and both sides plan to promote investment by creating a liberal, facilitative, transparent and competitive investment regime in China and ASEAN, it says.


The two sides have identified 10 priority areas for cooperation from 2005 to 2010, including agriculture, information industry, Mekong River Basin development, transport, energy, culture, tourism and public health.


"We should press ahead with the construction of the Kunming-Singapore Railway and the Asia highway network, launch energy co-operation and advance co-operation in the 10 priority areas," said Premier Wen Jiabao at the summit.


He also called for China and ASEAN to expand military dialogue and exchanges, conduct and institutionalize defense cooperation, continue to implement the "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea" and promote joint development in the South China Sea.


China will provide US$2 million to ASEAN to support its integration and community building, Wen said.


The Chinese government will donate US$1 million to the ASEAN Development Fund and provide funding assistance of US$1 million for the projects under the Initiative for ASEAN Integration, which was launched in November 2000 to narrow the divide within ASEAN and at enhancing ASEAN's competitiveness as a region.


China also offered to train 8,000 ASEAN professionals in the next five years and invited 1,000 young people from these countries to visit the country, said Wen at the Commemorative Summit Marking the 15th Anniversary of ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations.


Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who holds the rotating presidency of ASEAN, said the summit is "a milestone" and "more important than ever," because open dialogue and trust between peoples and nations have never been more important than in today's world.


"To consolidate and enhance China-ASEAN friendship and cooperation is our shared objective," said Wen, noting that China supports the association's leading role in regional affairs and cooperation.


"We should also step up cooperation on cross-border issues concerning counter-terrorism, transnational crimes, maritime security, rescue operation and disaster relief," he added.


Leaders also expressed concern over the nuclear test conducted by North Korea earlier this month.


"We were impressed by the unanimity of every leader on the issue of North Korea and their resolve to work together to seek a diplomatic solution through the resumption of the six-party talks," Arroyo said.


She praised host China for its "hands-on role" in sponsoring the six-party talks.


Wen told a press conference that the summit was unanimously in favor of making the Korean Peninsula nuclear free and urged resumption of six-party talks.


(China Daily October 31, 2006)

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