Beijing advocates China-ASEAN free trade zone

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at SPAMbom4.vsnl.net.in
Mon Nov 27 18:02:28 MST 2000



Sunday
26 November 2000

Beijing advocates China-ASEAN free trade zone
SINGAPORE: Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji on Saturday raised the prospect of a
China-ASEAN free trade zone, as he sought to strengthen trade and investment
links with the 10-nation Southeast Asian bloc.
Zhu, in a speech to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on
the closing day of their summit here, promoted a free-trade zone as part of
a six-point list of priorities.
However he made no mention of ASEAN evolving into a powerful East Asian
political and trading bloc including its key dialogue partners China, Japan
and South Korea.
The vision of an expanded ASEAN emerged on the opening day of the ASEAN plus
three summit, with a study group tasked to report back within 12 months on
the prospect of an East Asian summit and eventually a free trade and
investment area.
Zhu said the ever-closer economic cooperation between China and ASEAN made
it necessary for both sides "to further facilitate the unfettered exchange"
of goods, capital and information.
"It might be advisable in the long run for China and ASEAN countries to
explore the establishment of a free trade relationship between them," he
said.
"With China's membership in the WTO (World Trade Organisation) in sight and
the ASEAN free trade area by and large established in 2002, there is a good
opportunity for us to enhance our cooperation."
Zhu said Southeast Asian countries were not China's main competitors in the
United States and other developed markets, and China's WTO accession would
mean a bigger market and more opportunities for ASEAN countries.
In his pack of priorities, Zhu also listed strengthened political
cooperation and more multilateral and bilateral political and security
dialogues and consultation.
He saw a need to intensify human resource development, and added a further
5-million US dollars to the China-ASEAN Cooperation Fund to be used for
increased exchanges in the economic, trade, scientific, technological,
information and other fields.
Zhu pledged strengthening infrastructure building along the Mekong River
basin, an area which is home to 240 million people from Thailand to China,
and committed Beijing to fund the dredging of navigational courses in Laos
and Myanmar.
The Chinese premier also pressed for greater hi-tech and agricultural links,
suggesting a China-ASEAN seminar to be held in China next year on ways to
increase information technology (IT) cooperation. (AFP)
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