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ASEM set to boost creation of China-ASEAN free trade area
( 2003-07-17 17:00) (Xinhua)

The upcoming Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) economic ministers' meeting will promote the creation of the China-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Free Trade Area (FTA), Chinese economic experts predict.

Shen Jiru, researcher of the Institute of World Economics and Politics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the meeting would promote free trade and facilitate investment between Asian and European countries, he said, adding the conference would push forward cooperation between China and ASEAN countries as well.

China and ASEAN have decided to forge the FTA before 2010. The economic body will consist of 1.8 billion people and the total gross domestic product will be over 2,000 billion US dollars.

The ASEM, initiated in 1996, is composed of the 15 European Union countries, seven ASEAN countries, the Republic of Korea, Japan and China. Over 300 delegates from those countries will participate in the ministers' meeting, which will be held in northeast China's Dalian city from July 22 to 24.

Li Guanghui, deputy director of the Department of Asian and African studies of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, said the China-ASEAN FTA could be established at an earlier date than scheduled.

"The economic ministers' meeting will offer a sound platform for China and ASEAN countries to exchange views and coordinate stands to speed up the FTA building," he said.

China and Thailand signed a contract to levy zero tariffs on 188 kinds of vegetables and fruits from Oct. 1, 2003. The agreement is also open to other ASEAN members.

"It means that those products could be traded under FTA conditions in the area if other ASEAN members join the contract," Li said.

Over 500 agricultural products will enjoy the zero tariff treatment before 2006 in the China-ASEAN area. The two sides will trigger negotiations on the zero tariff timetable for another 5,000 products.

"That means the FTA negotiations will enter the most vital stage," said Xu Ningning, council member of the China-ASEAN Business Council.

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