KUALA LUMPUR – Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said on Sunday that both China and ASEAN have agreed to strive to bring to an end their negotiation on an upgraded version of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (FTA) before the end of this year.
“Progress has been made in comprehensive and in-depth consultation on goods and services trade, investment and economic and technological cooperation during the past three rounds of negotiation since it began one year ago,” Gao said shortly after a China-ASEAN (10+1) economic ministers’ meeting here.
The decision by leaders of China and ASEAN member states to negotiate for an upgraded version of the FTA is made to meet the demand for restructuring and upgrading their respective economies and is also a new move to further enhance the China-ASEAN strategic cooperative relationship, the Chinese minister told Xinhua.
Economic ministers from ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, began their series meetings here Saturday to put the finishing touches to the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by the end of this year, while pushing closer ties with its leading trading partners including China.
The China-ASEAN FTA came into effect on Jan 1, 2010 and since then China has become ASEAN’s biggest trade partner while ASEAN has become the third largest trade partner of China.
“The continuous increase in trade and economic cooperation between China and ASEAN, driven by the FTA, has contributed a lot to economic development in both China and ASEAN member states,” Gao said.
The China-ASEAN FTA initiated and played a leading role in the overall economic integration in East Asia and has also made great contribution to the liberalization of global trade, the minister said.
Gao described the China-ASEAN economic ministers’ meeting as ” fruitful,” saying the two sides have reached a consensus on a series of matters, including building of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and China-proposed eight measures for strengthening bilateral trade and economic cooperation.
The eight measures covered lifting bilateral trade to $1 trillion by 2020 and China making an additional investment of $100 billion by the same year, as well as cooperation in China-ASEAN infrastructure connectivity.
Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed during his visit to some Southeast Asian countries in 2013 that China and ASEAN countries make joint efforts to build the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which Gao said is an important measure to realize common development and prosperity in countries both in and outside the region for peace and stability for all.
The China-ASEAN FTA is the largest of its kind in developing countries that benefits the largest population of more than 1.8 billion people.
The ten-member ASEAN, established in August 1967, groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.