NANNING - Doris U. Gacho looked well-prepared from the way she handed out leaflets or talked about the Philippines to people who swarmed into the International Conference and Exposition Center in Nanning, the capital of South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
"This is my seventh time to the expo," she said, raising her voice against the hustle and bustle at the ongoing seventh China-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Expo, a six-day event that opened Tuesday in the city.
The CAExpo, jointly sponsored by the Chinese and ASEAN governments, now serves as a platform for China and 10 ASEAN member countries to promote trade and investment in a free trade area (FTA) that boasts a population of 1.9 billion people.
"I came here every year since 2004 to have a feeling of the Chinese market and experience changes here myself," said Gacho, a representative from the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions with the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry.
She said the Philippine companies' interests to participate in the CAExpo were increasing with the establishment of FTA between China and ASEAN as of January 1, 2010.
The CAFTA agreement provides easier terms for exporters and investors in the region by eliminating barriers to investment and trade on 90 percent of products, or more than 7,000 types of products, between China and six ASEAN countries -- Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
Four other ASEAN countries -- Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam -- are to be added to the zero-tariff arrangement in 2015.
According to Gacho, about 80 percent of the 40 Philippine CAExpo participants this year are in the agriculture business, underscoring the demands from the ASEAN member states to further strengthen their collaboration with China in agriculture.
The Philippine participants' emphasis on China-ASEAN agricultural cooperation would describe many of the items on display at the CAExpo, such as mangosteens from Indonesia, Rambutans from Malaysia, mangos from Thailand and dried jackfruits from Vietnam, along with China's agricultural technologies and equipment.
While China and ASEAN have expanded their cooperation in infrastructure, energy, manufacturing, and even financial sectors, some analysts believe both sides still share great potential in agricultural cooperation in an FTA-era integration, as most of the 1.9 billion people in the CAFTA, the first FTA agreement reached between developing countries, are farmers.
According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, China-ASEAN bilateral trade in the first nine months of 2010 jumped 44 percent year on year to $211.3 billion, from which a major part were the imports and exports of agricultural products under the CAFTA's zero-tariff arrangement.
Nyoman G. Widhi Adnyana, Directorate General of Processing and Marketing for Agricultural Products with the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture, told Xinhua on the sideline of the CAExpo that his job at the expo was to find cooperative importers from China for the country's tropical fruits and vegetables, while attracting investment in Indonesia's agricultural sector.
Cooperation in agriculture between Indonesia and China has been done smoothly in recent years, but the trade volume of agricultural products was "not too much", said Widhi, who had never participated in the CAExpo until this year.
"We do hope the Chinese government will open the gate wider to Indonesian fruits," he said, adding: "our target is not in numbers, but to increase our exports of agricultural products to China."
China currently imports only two kinds of tropical fruits -- mangosteen and salacca -- from Indonesia, according to Widhi.
"Indonesia is China's market and China is Indonesia's market, so why don't we exchange?" he said, "Next time we need to strengthen our cooperation in agriculture, starting from fruits, vegetables, coffee and tea.
"We still are open for investment in the agricultural sector from China or other countries. We have land for growing every kind of vegetable," he added.
Zhang Mingpei, head of the Department of Agriculture under the Guangxi regional government, suggested China and ASEAN countries provide each other with training on agricultural technologies and seed exports to establish a good relationship of mutual trust in the region.
"If such technological training and seed exports are standardized, China and ASEAN are fully capable of installing a coordinating mechanism to jointly respond to any price fluctuations of grain and other agricultural products on the world market," Zhang said.