China-ASEAN FTA upgrade on track: Commerce Minister

Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng (C) attends the China-ASEAN (10+1) trade ministers' meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Aug. 23, 2015 [Xinhua]

Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng (C) attends the China-ASEAN (10+1) trade ministers’ meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Aug. 23, 2015 [Xinhua]

China and ASEAN have made progress on talks around the proposed upgrading of their existing FTA, China’s Commerce Minister claimed on Sunday.

“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 Hucheng said in Kuala Lumpur.

The China-ASEAN FTA came into effect on Jan. 1, 2010 and is the largest free trade area in the world by population.

The two sides are now negotiating upgrading their existing FTA.

The Chinese Commerce Minister said on Sunday Beijing would strive to complete talks with ASEAN by the end of 2015.

At a China- ASEAN Economic Ministers meet in Kuala Lumpur this weekend, Beijing has announced it would make an additional investment of $100 billion in the bloc by 2020.

The two sides have set a bilateral trade target of $1 trillion by 2020.

During the past decade ASEAN has made significant strides in economic development and income distribution.

Nominal GDP for the bloc has risen from $1.3 trillion in 2007 to $2.4 trillion in 2013, while GDP per capita has climbed from $2249 to $3832 over the same period.

“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,” Gao was quoted by Chinese agency Xinhua.

“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 ten-member ASEAN, established in August 1967, groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, stagnant growth in the continent is forcing the European Union to also strive to rekindle interest in beginning FTA talks with ASEAN.

European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström has said recently that now is the right time to consider a resumption of ASEAN-EU trade talks.

ASEAN is also part of negotiations to form a mammoth Asian free-trade bloc, the RCEP.

The China-backed RCEP, or Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, is estimated to cover 28 per cent of the world economy.

Trade between China and the ASEAN rose 1.6 per cent year on year to reach $224 billion in the first six months of the year, accounting for 12 per cent of China’s total foreign trade.

Gao Yan, Chinese vice commerce minister, said last month in Beijing, that growing trade and investment between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) would not have been possible without “mutual political trust” and “deeper integration”.

Despite territorial skirmishes with ASEAN members Philippines and Vietnam, trade with China has grown manifold over the past few years.

Bilateral trade between China and ASEAN reached $480 billion last year, up 8.23 per cent.

China has been ASEAN’s largest trading partner since 2009, and ASEAN has been China’s third largest since 2010.

China is stepping up engagement with ASEAN even as the US repeatedly asserts its seriousness about the Asia Pivot policy announced by President Obama in 2009.



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