NANNING, Oct. 20 (Xinhua) -- China and ten southeast Asian countries are enhancing mutual trading ties and making final preparations for Asia's largest free trade area(FTA) as a high profile exposition and an investment summit opened here Tuesday.
Amid lingering global economic downturn and rising trade protectionism from western countries, state leaders from China and ASEAN countries have vowed to make joint efforts for a full realization of China-ASEAN FTA, or CAFTA, as well as regional prosperity.
EXPO: ACCELERATOR FOR CAFTA
The China-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Expo is a platform to promote exchanges and cooperation in trade and investment between China and ASEAN countries.
Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang on Tuesday declared the opening of the sixth annual event in Nanning, capital city of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Main exhibition halls were decorated with glittering signs and patterns of the new FTA, which would be realized on January 1, 2010.
State leaders, high ranking officials and businessmen from the ten ASEAN countries and China attended the opening ceremony. They all agreed that the Expo has been playing a vital role in advancing the establishment of the CAFTA.
CAFTA will create a combined GDP of nearly 6 trillion US dollars to become the third largest FTA in the world, only next to the North American FTA and European FTA. And in terms of the 1.9 billion population it covers, it is the largest FTA in the world.
Representing the first free trade area agreement signed by China, the CAFTA will provide zero tariff on 90 percent of products traded between China and ASEAN and other favorable policies on trade and investment.
ASEAN, a regional cooperation group, was founded in 1967. It is composed of 10 members, which are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, with a total area of 4.5 million square kilometers.
In a time of rising global trade barriers, Expo this year is seen by observers as an important opportunity to enhance communication and consultation on the CAFTA, and strengthen the position of China and ASEAN countries on the world economic stage.
"China and ASEAN share strong historical trading ties, and strengthening trade and economic cooperation with China is important for ASEAN," said Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary General of ASEAN at the ceremony.
"China grows, ASEAN grows," he said.
This year the Expo would play a more important role as China and ASEAN will soon witness the due FTA establishment next year, he said.
The Expo this year was of special significance as China and ASEAN will soon witness the launch of the FTA, and the Expo would thus further enhance the China-ASEAN strategic partnership, said Lao Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh.
Laos acts as the Country of Honor at the five-day Expo this year.
China's Minister of Commerce Chen Deming said the Expo served as a platform to make enterprises and people from both sides benefit from the facilitation of trade and investment.
"The China-ASEAN partnership will be reach a higher level after CAFTA is fully realized," Chen said.
Ma Biao, chairman of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, said Guangxi, which is adjacent to Vietnam, is willing to make greater contributions to the China-ASEAN cooperation through building Guangxi Beibu Gulf Economic Zone and promoting the Pan Beibu Gulf economic cooperation.
The Expo, namely "10+1", was initiated by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the 7th China-ASEAN summit in 2003, and has been held for consecutive six years in the permanent venue of Nanning.
CHINA, ASEAN TO FURTHER TIES AT NEW START
CAFTA "sets up a significant milestone in regional economic cooperation", and it marks that trade ties between China and ASEANwere to enter a new stage, Vice Premier Li Keqiang said in his keynote speech addressed at the opening ceremony of the 6th China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit opened here two hours after the Expo.
Li said ASEAN members had reined in economic downturn, and the positive changes in the economies of both China and ASEAN members were benefited from effective stimulus packages and closer economic cooperation.
Despite impact of the global financial crisis, the trade volume between China and ASEAN reached nearly 150 billion U.S. dollars and mutual investments topped 60 billion U.S. dollars in the first nine months of this year.
"China and ASEAN members have been sharing close economic ties and are currently each other's fourth biggest trade partners," Li said.
"We should further promote mutual economic and trade cooperation to a deeper level, as well as make joint efforts to boost the liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment," Li said.
"We firmly oppose trade and investment protectionism in any forms, in a purpose to advance global economic recovery and sustainable prosperity," Li said.
In his speech, Li proposed that both China and ASEAN should put into concrete practice the preferential policies in accordance with the regulations in the achieved trade agreement of goods and service.
Efforts were needed to develop new policies conducive to market liberalization and offer more legal protection to provide new opportunities for enterprises, Li said.
China and ASEAN should build more roads, railways, waterways and improve communications to facilitate mutual exchanges, and expand investment on agriculture, resource exploitation and new industries, Li said.
Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that Premier Wen Jiabao will attend several meetings related to ASEAN in Hua Hin of Thailand from Oct. 23 to 25.
The meetings include the 12th summit between ASEAN and China (10+1), the 12th summit between ASEAN and China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (10+3), the fourth East Asia Summit.