SCO calls for FTA to be set up

Updated: 2011-09-03 09:04

By Li Xiaokun and Bao Chang (China Daily)

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The organization wants to foster more trade in its catchment area

URUMQI - High-ranking officials from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member nations and experts on Friday called for the establishment of a massive free-trade area (FTA) across the region to facilitate trade among one-fourth of the world's population.

"China believes the relevant parties should make full use of the current mechanism and discuss the feasibility of setting up an FTA among SCO member nations," said Zhong Shan, vice-minister of commerce, in a speech at the SCO Business Day in the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

SCO calls for FTA to be set up
Zhong Shan,vice-minister of commerce.[Photo/China Daily]

The event is a branch of the ongoing first China-Eurasia Expo, which was launched on Thursday in the northwestern city. China has demonstrated its commitment to further developing the remote western area by upgrading a trade fair with a 19-year history in Urumqi into the annual national-level Expo this year.

China's Vice-Premier Li Keqiang said at the expo on Thursday that the process of opening up China's inland regions to the world will be accelerated and the remote autonomous region of Xinjiang will spearhead the drive.

China has already set up one free-trade zone with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), while similar discussions between Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul are also on agenda.

Song Airong, a member of the Standing Committee of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Party Committee, said the region is eager to see a massive FTA among SCO members and would like to become a bridgehead in the move.

The trade volume between Xinjiang, which accounts for one-sixth of China's land territory, and SCO member countries reached $14.2 billion in 2010, Song said. That was 83 percent of Xinjiang's total foreign trade volume that year.

SCO Secretary-General Muratbek Imanaliev has pledged that the organization will "play an active role in eliminating barriers to cooperation, facilitating trade and investment and developing connections in the region", adding that this is a priority for the SCO.

He also invited observer states and SCO dialogue partners to become involved in the effort.

Founded in 2001 in Shanghai, the SCO includes China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Mongolia, Pakistan, Iran and India are among the observer states.

Farrukh Hamraliyev, Tajikistan's minister of economic development and trade, said Beijing "has made a very sagacious decision to establish several free-trade zones in Xinjiang".

Tajikistan will join in the future to enable more privately owned Tadzhik enterprises to invest in Xinjiang, he said.

"We plan to increase the bilateral trade volume fourfold within the next five years, of which 70 percent will come from trade between Tajikistan and Xinjiang."

Ganeshan Wignaraja, principal economist of the Asian Development Bank, said: "With Doha stalled, FTAs (free-trade agreements) are an alternative way of liberalizing trade effectively." One way Asia plans to deal with the abundance of FTAs -the so-called Asian "Noodle Bowl" - is through consolidation, he said. "Two processes - an ASEAN-plus 3 or plus 6 and the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership - are moving forward in parallel.