China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will accelerate negotiations on upgrading the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA) in 2015, said Assistant Chinese Commerce Minister Tong Daochi in Beijing on Nov 6.
Tong said the two sides launched their first round of negotiations on upgrading CAFTA in September of this year, and agreed to focus on key areas of trade in goods, service trade, dispute settlement and investment.
“Since countries differ in their economic development, we should maintain flexibility in negotiations to upgrade CAFTA and allow special treatment for the least developed ASEAN countries,” he told a press briefing on Premier Li Keqiang’s upcoming visit to Myanmar, where the premier will attend a series of leaders’ meetings on East Asia cooperation.
Launched in 2010, CAFTA has become the world’s largest free trade area among developing countries, covering a total population of 1.9 billion.
To deepen pragmatic economic cooperation, Premier Li proposed “an upgraded version” of CAFTA in September of 2013, and vowed efforts to expand bilateral trade to one trillion U.S. dollars by 2020.
While accelerating CAFTA negotiations, China has contributed to Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations, which have moved from consultations on procedures to a new stage of substantial negotiation, Tong said.
China’s participation in RCEP will help China’s exports to and imports from countries in the region and consolidate China-ASEAN friendship, he added.
RCEP is a proposed FTA between the ten ASEAN member states and six other countries, namely Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, which have an FTA agreement with ASEAN.
RCEP negotiations were formally launched in November 2012 at the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia. Five rounds of talks have been held so far.
Currently China is ASEAN’s largest trading partner, while ASEAN ranks as China’s third-largest trading partner. Bilateral trade between China and ASEAN increased 11 percent year on year to 443.61 billion U.S. dollars in 2013.