China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have pledged to promote bilateral trade, according to a statement by the Ministry of Commerce released on Nov 23.
Protocols were signed to deepen cooperation on various areas of trade, including services, goods, investment, and economic and technological cooperation.
They are all supplementary to the original agreements made within the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area.
Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said China would improve its offerings, particularly in construction engineering and securities sectors, and in tourism industry, while the ASEAN members promised to further open their service sectors to China, in areas such as commerce, infrastructure construction, telecommunications, education, environment, finance, tourism and transportation.
The two sides also agreed to allow each other to establish both solely owned and joint-venture companies, and reduce regional business restrictions.
Under the agreements, suppliers and providers across the region will be able to enjoy improved market access and conditions, too, in sectors and subsectors where commitments have already been made.
Gao said as both sides seek new growth points, the signing of the document would help accelerate regional integration and improve trade among the service sector.
Among major ASEAN economies, Indonesia agreed to include its hospitality and catering sectors, and asset and securities management to the list of businesses being opened to China.
Malaysia promised to relax restrictions on its construction industry and other infrastructure projects, and Thailand said it will further open its education, database management and estate development sectors to Chinese companies.
Since 2010, China has been the largest trading partner within the China-ASEAN FTA, which has also made ASEAN the world’s third-largest trade bloc.
Even though the two parties signed the Agreement on Trade in Services in 2007, trade experts said the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement was overwhelmingly focused on accelerating the liberalization of trade, and more still needs to be done to make trade in services competitive on a world stage.
“Compared with the China-ROK (the Republic of Korea) and China-Australia FTAs signed earlier this year, the China-ASEAN FTA lacks ‘advanced articles’ on trade in services,” said Zhang Xiaojing, director of Institute of Economic Research for China and ASEAN at the University of International Business and Economics.
Liu Chenyang, a researcher at the APEC Study Center at Nankai University in Tianjin, said: “Sealing this deal will enrich both sides’ market flexibility by providing a service trade-fueled economic development model, as well as helping two-way investment.”
Since the FTA was sealed, China-ASEAN economic and trade relations have stabilized significantly, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce, which show levels surged nearly nine times from $54.8 billion in 2002 to $480.4 billion in 2014.