Cebu summit to bring ASEAN-China free trade zone scheme closer to reality
Quezon City (24 November) -- Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China are poised to bring the much-awaited regional free trade zone a step closer to reality when they meet in Cebu City on Dec. 11-13 for the 12th ASEAN Summit.
The free trade zone, which will encompass close to two billion people or a third of the world's population and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $2 trillion, is targeted to be fully operational in 2010.
Under the free trade deal, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand will lift tariff on most normal products in 2010, while Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia will follow suit five years later.
"ASEAN welcomes the deepening ties through the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement. This agreement is built on mutual respect, reciprocity and pragmatism," President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said in her address before the 15th ASEAN + China Commemorative Summit in Nanning, China on Oct. 30.
She said the free trade accord with China, the world's fastest growing economy, will help all ASEAN economies grow as well as bolster peace and security in the region.
The President, who chairs this year's 10-member ASEAN grouping, said the free trade agreement offers vast opportunities to the Philippines and its regional partners. "The ASEAN region represents a market of over half a billion people for Chinese exports. It is a supplier of much-needed resources," she added.
Starting in 2002, ASEAN and China have been progressively reducing tariffs on a range of products in the run-up to the 2010 free trade zone target.
While in China, the President held discussions with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and her fellow ASEAN leaders on how to further firm up the free trade zone program. Wen assured her of Beijing's unwavering support for the regional trading bloc and his government commitment to support Chinese investments in the region.
Wen also reaffirmed China's goal of increasing trade with ASEAN by more than 50 percent to $200 billion over the next four years. China's trade with ASEAN reached $130.37 billion last year, up from $39.5 billion in 2000.
"The Chinese government will honor its (commitment) made last year of providing $5 billion of preferential loans to support Chinese companies in investing and setting up business ventures in ASEAN countries," Wen said.
The President said that tariff cuts under the multilateral agreement would enable ASEAN countries to move their products at lower costs and allow a huge number of consumers access to these goods. (PIA) [top]