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China-ASEAN free trade area to be completed on schedule
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The China-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Free Trade Area would be completely operative in 2010 as scheduled, a senior official from the Ministry of Commerce said Thursday.

"The free trade zone will cover a population of 1.9 billion and involve about 6 trillion U.S. dollars in gross domestic product," Lu Kejian, director of the ministry's Department of Asian Affairs, said at the opening of the fourth Pan Beibu Gulf Economic Cooperation Forum in Nanning, capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China.

The free trade area project was first brought up in 2002,and completion set down for next year.

Ma Biao, chairman of the Guangxi regional government, said at the two-day forum that the free trade area would be the world's largest by population.

Du Ying, vice minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, said strengthening economic cooperation in the Pan-Beibu Gulf region would boost its economic growth and competitive edge.

He called for greater efforts to increase mutual investment, improve transportation links and step up cooperation in petrochemical, steel and electronics sectors.

ASEAN is China's fourth largest trade partner after the European Union, the United States and Japan. In 2008, bilateral trade between China and ASEAN totaled 231.1 billion U.S. dollars, up 14 percent from 2007.

But the first half of this year witnessed a 24 percent drop from the first half of 2008 to 88.1 billion U.S. dollars because of the global economic downturn.

In April this year, the Chinese government proposed a fund of 10 billion U.S. dollars and a loan of 15 billion U.S. dollars to build infrastructure in the region over the next three to five years.

(Xinhua News Agency August 6, 2009)

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