The free trade area between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is the first of its kind for China, it is also playing a pilot role as China is eyeing larger foreign trade and deeper economic cooperation with other countries and regions.
The China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA), which is to be established on Jan 1, 2010, is under heated discussion in Nanning during the 6th China-ASEAN Expo held in Nanning, capital of south China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
Yoshida Hiroyuki, who attended the Expo on behalf of Kumamoto, Japan, said he was glad to see the establishment of the CAFTA.
"I think it sends a good signal, since the establishment would pave the way for the FTA between China, Japan and South Korea in the future," he said.
More FTAs between China and other countries or regions, including the one between China, Japan and South Korea, are under negotiation as Yoshida had hoped, as the completion of CAFTA also brings further steps in China's FTA strategy.
"The establishment of the CAFTA sets up a significant milestone in regional economic cooperation," Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang said at the opening ceremony of the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit, which was held simultaneously with the Expo. During the second trilateral leaders' meeting between China, Japan and South Korea this month, China's premier Wen Jiabao proposed to promote the study of the FTA between the three countries, while Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama also called for the acceleration of its progress.
China's plan on FTA began from the early 2000s to bring more trade exchanges and economic cooperation to the country. After years of efforts, China has now 14 FTAs concerning 31 countries or regions under construction, covering markets at different levels in South America, Europe and Africa, according to China FTA Service, a website under China's Ministry of Commerce.
The latest achievement is the enforcement of the service trade agreement between China and Pakistan on Oct 10, according to which Pakistan will open 102 sub-departments in 11 service departments and China will open 28 sub-departments in six service departments, according to the agreement.
"China has a large market with demands at different levels, which would make it easier to seek economic cooperation with a variety of countries at different levels," said Xu Ningning, executive secretary general of China-ASEAN Business Council.
"China's participation in building FTAs has demonstrated the country's efforts in realizing free trade, especially in a time of increasing protectionism and trade frictions," he said.
Currently there are over 200 regional cooperative organizations at different levels, and it's almost impossible to find a country with absolute economic independence from its region, he told Xinhua.
The trend of economic globalization and regional integration would not end or slow down because of the financial crisis, and only economies that followed the trend would prosper, said Li Ruogu, Chairman of the Export-Import Bank of China.
For China, more FTAs means more business opportunities and better trade environment, especially for those with less advantages in outbound business in the past years.
Guangxi, China's south region bordering Vietnam, had already borne fruits from the establishment of CAFTA. The region's trade volume with ASEAN jumped from $630 million in 2002 when the building of CAFTA started, to $3.99 billion in 2008, official data showed.
Shi Yuqiang, deputy director of the Commerce Department of central China's Hebei province, is eager to see more FTAs coming up as he watched and learned about the CAFTA at the Expo.
"I can see the broad prospects of the upcoming FTAs for boosting the export and import of Hebei, especially the one between China, Japan and South Korea," he said, hoping China could promote the negotiation process of other FTAs.
"I know there are obstacles, but I believe that we would find the solution," said Yoshida, expressing the same faith.