China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations members have set a goal to conclude the negotiations on upgrading the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area by the end of 2015, as both sides are keen to pursue a larger foothold in each other’s lucrative markets with more access to foreign goods and investment.
Premier Li Keqiang said China is willing to take part in the CAFTA negotiations on the basis of the pre-establishment of national treatment plus the negative list model, as well as supporting Hong Kong further in talks on building a free trade area with ASEAN countries.
“China will set aside 30 million yuan ($4.9 million) over the next three years to support economic and technical cooperation between the two sides,” Li said on Nov 13 at the 17th China-ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting, in Nay Pyi Taw, the capital of Myanmar.
The two sides launched their first round of negotiations on upgrading CAFTA in September, and agreed to focus on key areas of trade in goods, service trade, dispute settlement and investment.
Launched in 2010, CAFTA has become the world’s largest free trade area among developing countries, with a population of 1.9 billion.
“In our view, various FTA arrangements need to play a positive role in fostering a just and free international and regional trade order,” said Li.
While accelerating CAFTA negotiations, China has contributed to Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations, which have moved from consultations on procedures to a new stage of substantive negotiations.
Moreover, parties attending the just-concluded APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Beijing all supported starting talks on establishing a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. China is also open to negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Li said China will encourage its companies to invest in the ASEAN member markets, as well as cooperating with local partners to build cross-border businesses and industrial zones to accelerate the pace of regional economic integration.
China is ASEAN’s largest trading partner, while ASEAN ranks as China’s third-largest trading partner. Bilateral trade increased 11 percent year-on-year to $443.61 billion in 2013.
In the first three quarters of this year, the trade figure reached $346.6 billion, a 7.5 percent year-on-year increase. Both sides are also determined to push their trade volume to $500 billion by 2015 and $1 trillion by 2020.
Wang Zhile, a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation said as countries differ in their economic development modes, pillar industries and political environments, China is taking a flexible stance in negotiations to upgrade CAFTA and allow special treatment for the least developed ASEAN countries.
Eager to build up a solid cooperative foundation, the two sides have implemented a large number of projects in power generation, bridge-building, agriculture and manufacturing during the past decade.
China has set up the China-ASEAN Investment Cooperation Fund to provide the ASEAN with preferential financing support, which has promoted the economic development of ASEAN countries and benefited local peoples.
“The new cooperative development between China and ASEAN members is not only or mainly about broadening trade liberalization, but also about building frameworks for efficient regulatory cooperation and investment in infrastructure, industrial and social development to facilitate economic integration at a new level with more real actions, creative ideas and methods,” said Wang.