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ASEAN-China agency to raise FTA awareness

Updated: 2012-03-31 08:08

By Zhou Wa (China Daily)

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The ASEAN-China Center aims to help China and members of the Southeast Asian bloc extract more benefit from the regional free trade agreement, the center's Secretary-General Ma Mingqiang told China Daily in an exclusive interview.

The inter-governmental organization will provide lectures by economic experts about the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area, which by 2015 will include China and all 10 ASEAN member countries, beginning in May in China, Ma said.

"We will tell businesspeople directly what the ACFTA is and how they can use it reduce their costs and strengthen their companies," said Ma.

However, many people in China and ASEAN member countries are not aware of the ACFTA.

For instance, the city of Yiwu in Zhejiang province is renowned as a shopping paradise for small commodities, which have a big market in Southeast Asian countries. But many Yiwu businesspeople are not familiar with the ACFTA and sometimes end up paying higher tariffs when exporting to ASEAN countries.

Similarly, companies in Indonesia, famous for its raw rubber, often sell the natural resource to countries that have higher tariffs.

The population is not aware of the advantages of the ACFTA, said Ma, adding that the center "will go directly to enterprises at the basic level".

The initial framework agreement of the ACFTA was signed on Nov 4, 2002 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which is the chair country of ASEAN this year and will host the 20th ASEAN Summit on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The ACFTA, which currently includes China and the six original members of ASEAN - Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, came into effect on Jan 1, 2010, making it the largest free-trade area in terms of population and the third-largest by nominal GDP at a combined value of $6 trillion in 2008.

The remaining four countries will follow suit in 2015.

According to the ACFTA, tariffs have been eliminated for about 7,880 product categories, or 90 percent of the imported goods.

The average tariff rate on Chinese goods sold in ASEAN countries decreased from 12.8 to 0.6 percent, and the average tariff rate on ASEAN goods sold in China drooped from 9.8 to 0.1 percent.

"The ACC will build close ties with the governments of the ASEAN member countries, which increases mutual understanding and benefits everyone involved," said Ma, who recently led a delegation of Chinese business representatives to Vietnam and Cambodia.

Cambodia is expected to work together with the center in tourism marketing and training, said the country's tourism minister when meeting with Ma in February.

"We are coordinating with Chinese TV stations to broadcast Cambodian travel advertisements," Ma said. "The center will help promote regional tourism."

The center, which was officially launched on Nov 18 by Premier Wen Jiabao and ASEAN leaders, is playing an increasing role, said Ma, who has received a delegation from almost every ASEAN member state since its inception.

After visiting the center on March 1, the Thai ambassador to China vowed to work with the center to promote China-ASEAN cooperation in all fields, including trade, culture, education and tourism.

Supported by Chinese and ASEAN member ministries of trade, investment, tourism, education and culture, the purpose of the center is to offer comprehensive services and information to people and institutions in China and ASEAN member countries, according to a memorandum signed during the 12th ASEAN-China Summit in 2009.

"The center functions as a supplement to the present mechanism between China and ASEAN countries," said Luo Yongkun, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

"Its links to the governments of China and ASEAN countries make the center more efficient. It can directly inform government of public opinion and government policies can be accurately spread to the people."

Xinhua News Agency contributed to this story.