China, ASEAN mark FTA with grand ceremony
2010/01/07

NANNING, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Thursday held a ceremony marking the establishment of world's largest free trade area of developing countries.

"Let's take the FTA as an opportunity to lift China-ASEAN relations to a new high," Huang Mengfu, vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said at the ceremony.

Officially established last Friday, the FTA covers a population of 1.9 billion and accounts for about 4.5 trillion U.S. dollars in trade volume.

Under the FTA, the average tariff on goods from ASEAN countries to China is reduced from 9.8 percent to 0.1 percent. The six original ASEAN members, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, slashed the average tariff on Chinese goods from 12.8 percent to 0.6 percent.

By 2015, the policy of a zero-tariff rate for 90 percent of Chinese goods is expected to extend to the four new ASEAN members, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Pinning much hope on the FTA, Huang called for China and ASEAN nations to seek stronger political trust, deeper trade cooperation, as well as closer social and cultural exchanges.

In his key-note speech, Pushpanathan Sundram, deputy secretary-general of ASEAN, said the signing of the FTA "signified a milestone in the cooperation between China and ASEAN nations."

China and ASEAN launched cooperation dialogue in 1991 and signed the China-ASEAN Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Cooperation in 2002.

"It took a decade to realize the FTA. We hope it will bring great benefits in the next decade," Sundram said.

With the global economic downturn still looming, Sundram said the FTA would help lift ASEAN nations out of the recession and help integrate the East Asian economy.

Sundram said the FTA would help narrow the wealth gap between different nations and boost cross-border trade and investment.

About 300 officials, scholars and business executives from China and 10 ASEAN nations attended the ceremony.

A one-and-a-half-day forum will follow the ceremony to discuss new opportunities and challenges of the FTA.

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