An upgrade to the China-ASEAN free trade area has come just at the right time, according to Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng.
The upgrade, unlike similar agreements, places more emphasis on the human dimension with a focus on technology and services-sharing.
The new agreement covers various sectors, including goods, services, investment, economic and technological cooperation.
It is expected to provide fresh impetus for the economic development of China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Gao said.
China has abundant capital and technological strengths, while ASEAN aspires for accelerated regional integration and has a great need for industrial development and infrastructure, Gao said.
He made the comments after the upgrade agreement was signed on Nov 23 at a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur attended by Premier Li Keqiang and leaders of the 10-member ASEAN bloc.
China and ASEAN have compatible concepts of cooperation, complementary economic advantages and great potential for collaboration, Gao said.
Chen Fengying, former head of the World Economy Research Center at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said she had noticed an “oriental flavor” to the upgrade.
Unlike Western free trade area agreements, which are dominated by rigid laws and regulations, this one pays more attention to people-to-people exchanges and sharing experience, Chen said.
“What China and the ASEAN countries seek here is a win-win (situation),” Chen said, referring to the additional terms covering technological cooperation and trade in services.
“Good networks are the key to business success, and this is something the cooperation projects can bring.”
The upgrade will also help to realize the target of increasing two-way trade to $1 trillion by 2020, which is conducive to fostering a closer China-ASEAN “community of common destiny”, Gao said.
Wei Min, a world economy researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, said the upgrade will promote negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.