NANNING: The sixth annual free trade expo between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) opened in this southern city yesterday with a decidedly agricultural flair.
First held in 2004, the China-ASEAN Expo is normally filled with exhibition halls of various economic sectors that facilitate trade between retailers from China and Southeast Asian nations.
But with rising global trade barriers and the economic downturn, organizers this year launched separate halls for agricultural products as well a financial service area.
"Agricultural products are more easily exported from ASEAN nations to European countries and the United States," said Zeng Xiangde, an investment promotion manager of Guangxi State Farms.
Prior to the expo's opening, China and ASEAN members inked the "Nanning Consensus" to step up agricultural exchanges to help improve regional development and prevent food crises that have already plagued some regions.
China and ASEAN members identified seven fields of agriculture as priorities: agro-industry and food security, new crop varieties and animal breeds, agricultural sciences and technology, biomass energy, agricultural processing and logistics, animal husbandry and fishery.
With improving agricultural exchanges, many domestic producers have reportedly turned to ASEAN markets.
"We expect a $500,000 export growth in ASEAN market this year," said Tang Shilei, a sales manager of Guilin Kefeng Machinery Co Ltd.
At the expo yesterday, a growing number of potential buyers from ASEAN nations began negotiations with the company, which specializes in designing and producing mini-type agricultural and forest machines, Tang said.
Guangxi State Farms has signed as many as 164 investment projects worth 65.6 billion yuan ($9.6 billion) with ASEAN members, Hong Kong and Taiwan during previous expos.
It has built a China-Indonesia economic and trade cooperation zone in Jakarta and a Singapore industrial zone in Beihai of Guangxi, which faces the Beibu Gulf in the south.
"The global financial crisis, to some degree, has affected our business in the domestic market. But our investment in the ASEAN market has maintained a stronger growth since this year," Zeng said.
The stable and competitive production and labor costs in ASEAN countries have helped the company better sustain its business growth, Zeng said.
"Unlike the domestic market, we face less trade barriers in terms of exporting products from the ASEAN countries to European and American markets," he said.
The expo this year is seen as an important opportunity to strengthen consultation on the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (FTA), which will be realized by January next year.
The free trade area agreement signed by China and ASEAN would provide zero tariffs on 90 percent of products traded between China and ASEAN members and other favorable policies on trade and investment, Xinhua said.
Upon completion, the FTA will become the world's biggest free trade zone, forming a market with a population of 1.9 billion, a trade volume of $4.5 trillion and a combined GDP of $6 trillion.