China and the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) signed an
agreement on trade in services here yesterday a major step toward establishing a
free trade area (FTA) in the region by 2010.
The deal, which was inked in the presence of Premier Wen Jiabao and 10 ASEAN
leaders, will help firms from the Southeast Asian economic bloc gain improved
market access to multi-billion dollar service sectors including banking,
information technology and tourism.
The agreement "marks a key step forward in building the China-ASEAN Free
Trade Area and lays the foundation for its full and scheduled completion," Wen
said in a keynote speech yesterday at the 10th ASEAN-China Summit.
Trade between China and the ASEAN states has been booming in the past 15
years it grew more than 20 per cent a year, reaching $160 billion last year. The
two sides are each other's fourth-largest trading partners.
Trade volume will continue to grow by about 20 per cent this year although
the possible outbreak of bird flu, natural disasters, regional security and
global financial risks could slow the increase, Lu Jianren, a researcher at the
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, predicted.
An agreement on merchandise trade took effect in July, 2005, following an
early harvest scheme of initial tariff cuts on meat, fish, dairy products,
vegetables, fruits and nuts. The services agreement was one of the remaining key
items to be finalized in addition to an investment agreement.
Speaking at the summit, Wen called for the acceleration of talks on the
investment agreement so as to complete setting up of the FTA by 2010 as planned.
When completed, the China-ASEAN FTA will be the world's largest, encompassing
around 1.7 billion consumers and with total trade estimated at $1.2 trillion.
To promote the building of the FTA, China is ready to speed up discussions
and sign a memorandum of understanding on establishing the China-ASEAN Trade,
Investment and Tourism Promotion Center, Wen said.
China also proposes ASEAN transport collaboration be strengthened in the next
10 to 15 years to facilitate development of regional transportation and
Wen noted China would enhance cooperation in combating transnational crime,
maritime security, disaster reduction and relief, prevention and control of
communicable diseases and environmental protection.
Wen was in Cebu to attend a series of East Asian summits that include the
10th ASEAN-China Summit, the 10th ASEAN Plus China, Japan and Republic of Korea
(ROK) Summit ("10+3" Summit) and the 2nd East Asia Summit. He also chaired the
7th Chinese, Japanese and ROK Leaders' Meeting yesterday.