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ASEAN to Upgrade FTA With China

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has agreed to negotiate with China on upgrading the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA) to deepen their economic cooperation and keep ACFTA commercially relevant.

ASEAN and China signed the initial framework for the ACFTA agreement in 2002, with the goal of establishing a free trade zone among the involved nations by 2010.

The agreement, which has been key to the development of China’s relations with the ASEAN nations (which include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) has enlarged the region’s market size, making it the world’s third largest free trade zone.

During the 13th ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting (AEM)-Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) consultations in Myanmar, ministers said the agreement to upgrade ACFTA was a testament to the strong positive relationships between ASEAN and China.

According to Xinhua, China maintained its position as ASEAN’s largest trading partner, with total trade reaching $350.5 billion, or 14 percent of ASEAN’s total trade in 2013, a 7.7% year-on-year increase.

Last year, ASEAN also received 8.6 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow from China, an almost 61 percent increase over the previous year.

Gao Hucheng, China’s Minister of Commerce, made a mutually beneficial four-point proposal during the consultations with the goal of expanding China’s cooperation with ASEAN. The proposals include jointly building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, increasing the ease of bilateral trade and investment, expediting infrastructural construction for connectivity and enhancing cooperation in regional economic integration, Xinhua reported.

The ministers at the meeting reaffirmed China and ASEAN’s commitment to hit a joint trade volume target of $500 billion by the end of 2015.