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Government leaders mark the opening ceremony of the 2012 China-ASEAN Economic and Trade Cooperation Zhanjiang Activities on June 18. Li Manqing / for China Daily
Located in the southwestern region of Guangdong province, the coastal city of Zhanjiang is poised to expand cooperation with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
"As Zhanjiang works to become international, it is making the first step by working with its close neighbor, ASEAN, across oceans and plays a part in the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area to further its opening-up," said Wang Zhongbing, mayor of the city.
"ASEAN is an important partner of Zhanjiang in trade and investment, with complementary relations in resources and technology," Wang said during a recent China-ASEAN economic and trade event held in Zhanjiang .
The large-scale iron, steel, petrochemical and paper manufacturing projects under construction in Zhanjiang have been the driving force behind the partnership, he said.
To expand cooperation, the Zhanjiang government plans to organize trade missions to ASEAN members and promote bilateral trade in home appliances, furniture, agricultural and aquatic products, cultural products and oceanic biological technologies.
The city welcomes investment from ASEAN into the Zhanjiang Fenyong Economic Zone in such fields as alternative energy, electronics, new materials, pharmaceuticals and oceanic industries, local officials said.
A China-ASEAN industrial park for furniture manufacturing in Lianjiang and a China-Thai modern agricultural park in Suixi are scheduled to host new investment projects.
Local authorities will organize a yearly conference on cooperation between small and medium-sized enterprises in China and ASEAN and hold the first conference of Chinese businesses in ASEAN.
The city government will try to attract more headquarters of companies from ASEAN countries for trade cooperation and increase investment by local companies in ASEAN, Wang said.
Zhanjiang will actively participate in the China-ASEAN sub-regional partnership and take part in the construction of the Pan-Beibu Gulf Economic Cooperation Zone, the city's leaders said.
Due to the uncertainty and instability arising from the global economic downturn, it has become a natural choice for emerging economies to strengthen their cooperation, said Xu Ning-ning, executive deputy secretary-general of the China-ASEAN Business Council Chinese Secretariat.
Trade between China and ASEAN topped $400 billion last year, and ASEAN was the largest destination of overseas investment by Chinese companies, he said.
Zhanjiang was named an important city when Guangdong province, which accounts for about one-fourth of China-ASEAN trade, began its strategy of cooperating with the intergovernmental body in 2010.
While China-ASEAN trade grew by 6.7 percent in the first four months of this year, trade between Zhanjiang and ASEAN surged nearly 76 percent during the same period. This indicates great potential in cooperation between Zhanjiang and ASEAN, Xu said.
Thalerngsak Vongsamsorn, minister counselor of the office of commercial affairs of the Thai Embassy in China, said he believes vast opportunities for mutual benefit lie in cooperation with Zhanjiang, especially in the areas of steel, pharmaceuticals, shipping and logistics.
Considering that the earliest starting point of the so-called "marine Silk Road" for China's trade with South and Southeast Asia located in Xumen county, Zhanjiang has had close exchanges with ASEAN since China's reform and opening-up, especially after the establishment of the China-ASEAN FTA, Wang said.
One of the earliest coastal cities to participate in China's reform and opening-up and a major hub port along the southwestern coast of the country, Zhanjiang is also closer by water to ASEAN member countries than any other city on the Chinese mainland.
Trade between Zhanjiang and ASEAN grew 27.2 percent last year to hit $430.56 million, including $290.69 million in exports from Zhanjiang, an increase of 50.4 percent, according to official statistics.
Aquatic products, sugar, glass products and steel constitute the major export items from Zhanjiang to ASEAN. Coal, paper pulp, soybean and manganese ore are ASEAN's chief exports to Zhanjiang.
Cooperation in shipping has been strengthened by the formation of a line connecting Vietnam, Zhanjiang, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea in late 2010.
Trade links extend from the Port of Zhanjiang to Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.
As of the end of last year, ASEAN companies had invested $100 million in the southern coastal city in areas such as agricultural processing, machinery, appliances, equipment, property development and chemicals.
Ten Zhanjiang companies have invested in ASEAN industries, such as aquatic feed, agricultural plantation and processing, poultry and cattle processing, education and fishing.
Apart from the traditional sectors, cooperation between Zhanjiang and ASEAN should also expand into the industries of modern manufacturing, tourism and services, Wang said.
(China Daily 06/30/2012 page6)