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Expert Group Proposed for Pan-Beibu Bay
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A proposed group of government and business leaders will strengthen economic and trade ties between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a top local official said.

The proposal was put forward by officials from southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Liu Qibao, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Party Secretary, yesterday described the proposal as "one of the most important measures" to further trade and economic cooperation in the Pan-Beibu Bay region.

The bay region, which is part of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, includes China, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.

During the Pan-Beibu Bay Economic Cooperation Forum, which opened yesterday in Nanning, Guangxi's capital city, Liu said the proposed group should consist of leading government officials and business leaders from countries surrounding the Pan-Beibu Bay.

"Countries surrounding the bay, the China Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank have all expressed support for the proposal," Liu said.

By providing advice on big cooperative projects between China and the other member countries, the high-level group will play a central role in fostering Pan-Beibu Bay economic cooperation, Liu said.

"Details for the establishment of the group are still being discussed by representatives of the involved countries and organizations. We believe the talks will finish soon since we are all aware of how important the group is," Liu said.

Liu also called yesterday for the establishment of a mechanism to allow the governments of the countries surrounding the Beibu Bay to coordinate their activities.

China has developed stronger trade relations with the Pan-Beibu Bay countries thanks to their geographical proximity, Liu said.

Last year, China's trade volume with the six Pan-Beibu Bay countries totaled $131 billion, accounting for 81.3 percent of the country's trade with ASEAN members, Liu said.

Liu said China will sign an economic cooperative framework with the six other countries.

"Under the framework, we will first look forward to cooperative projects in some key industrial areas, for example port cluster construction," Liu said.

Guangxi, which is seen as a gateway to Southeast Asia, is the only region in Southwest China that has three port cities: Beihai, Qinzhou and Fangchenggang.

"Cooperation in harbor construction with the Pan-Beibu Bay countries will help develop logistics and attract more foreign-oriented companies," Liu said.

Fredric Tsao, chairman of the IMC Group in Singapore, said his company will soon sign agreements for three port projects with Guangxi.

"All these projects will be located in the port cities. We have seen a huge market potential here," said Tsao, who added that the company is also planning to invest in area's tourism sector.

(China Daily July 27, 2007)

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