China, ASEAN pin hope on Free Trade Area with new opportunities

NANNING, Oct. 24 (Xinhua) -- China and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) are looking forward to great opportunities brought about by the Free Trade Area (FTA) to be established on Jan. 1 next year, as both sides have witnessed closer trade and investment ties.

The 6th China-ASEAN Expo, a key platform to promote mutual exchanges and cooperation, closed with fruitful results here Saturday in Nanning, capital of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

"The expo has focused on the incoming FTA and brought huge business opportunities to both sides," Chen Wu, vice co-chair and secretary general of the expo's organizing committee, said at the closing press conference, who is also Guangxi's vice governor.

As of 4 p.m. Saturday, total trade volume at the five-day expo hit 1.65 billion U.S. dollars, up 3.8 percent over last year's event, while 136 cross-border investment projects had been signed with investment up 1.19 percent from last year to 6.44 billion U.S. dollars, Chen said.

Chinese enterprises reached 204 deals with total investment of 61.85 billion yuan at the expo, up 1.05 percent from a year ago, Chen said.

A total of 11 high-level forums were also held on the sidelines of the expo, including the China-ASEAN Customs-Trade Cooperation Forum, the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit, and the China-ASEAN Summit Forum on Radio and Television.

"The expo reflects the growing and expanding trade relations between ASEAN and China as the comprehensive FTA takes effect in 2010," said Yap Laipeng, representative of the ASEAN Secretariat.

Representing the first FTA agreement signed by China, it will provide zero tariff on 90 percent of products traded between China and ASEAN and other favorable policies on trade and investment.

Zheng Junjian, chief of Guangxi Exposition Bureau, said at the closing press conference that the 7th expo next year would mainly display products given zero tariff or other favorable treatment.

"The expo is tailored for the FTA," Zheng said.

The 7th expo will be held from Oct.20 to 24 next year in the permanent venue of Nanning with the theme of "FTA and New Opportunities", according to Chen.

The China-ASEAN FTA will create a combined GDP of nearly 6 trillion US dollars and cover a population of 1.9 billion, becoming the world's third largest FTA in terms of trade volume.

"It's a significant, historical event for China-ASEAN cooperation and development, and also for the world's regional integration," Chen said.

China is currently ASEAN's fourth largest trading and investment partner, with its trade with ASEAN accounting for 10.6 percent of the association's total. Its investment in ASEAN member states soared by 125 percent year-on-year to reach 2.18 billion U.S. dollars in 2008.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam with a total area of 4.5 million square kilometers.

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