Interview: Economic ties between ASEAN, China to grow further: Singapore's minister

19:43, October 21, 2009      

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The economic relationship between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China is likely to grow and strengthen further, as Asia continues on the path of strong economic growth, Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang has said.

In an exclusive written interview with Xinhua on Tuesday, Lim said that ASEAN enjoys a strong economic relationship with China.

China is ASEAN's fourth largest trading and investment partner, whose trade with ASEAN accounts for 10.6 percent of ASEAN's total trade, Lim said.

In 2007, ASEAN's imports from China rose to 93.2 billion U.S. dollars and trade between ASEAN and China almost tripled from 59.6billion U.S. dollars in 2003 to 171.1 billion U.S. dollars in 2007,according to Lim.

He said that the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation between ASEAN and China serves as a roadmap for the realization of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area by 2010.

"This was the first FTA for both ASEAN and China, which shows the historical significance of ASEAN-China economic relations," he noted.

The two sides have signed the Trade in Goods (TIG) Agreement in2004, the Trade in Services (TIS) Agreement in 2007, and the ASEAN-China FTA was completed with the signing of the Investment Agreement this August.

ASEAN and China have also established a Working Group on Economic Cooperation to discuss FTA-related cooperation projects. Officials have agreed to further explore two proposed capacity building projects for officials from ASEAN and China, namely, a workshop on implementation of the ACFTA to be held in Kunming, China, and a workshop on customs procedures and trade compliance.

"We look forward to the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Intellectual Property (IP) and Standards, Technical Regulations and Conformity Assessment Procedures (STRACAP) at the upcoming ASEAN-China Summit," Lim said.

He said that these two MOUs will enhance ASEAN-China economic engagement by facilitating information exchange, exchange of visits, training courses and seminars on IP and STRACAP issues between ASEAN and China.

Lim also expressed satisfaction on bilateral economic cooperation between Singapore and China. China is Singapore's third trading partner and remains as Singapore's top investment destination, with cumulative actual investments reaching 37.6 billion U.S. dollars as of end 2008.

He said that Singaporean companies have had a long history of operating in China, and have diversified their presence from the coastal regions to inland regions such as Western China, Central China and the Northeast, adding that Singapore will continue to participate in China's regional development through the business councils which are set up in Shandong, Sichuan, Liaoning, Tianjin, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong.

At the same time, as more and more Chinese companies gear up for international expansion, Singapore is making sustained efforts to position itself as an attractive springboard for Chinese companies to "go global," he added.

Calling the enforcement of the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (CSFTA) in 2009 a "milestone," Lim said that the CSFTA reduced barriers to trade and created new opportunities for businesses from both countries.

"Under the CSFTA, both China and Singapore have committed to liberalize various economic sectors beyond their respective WTO commitments, such as the healthcare and education sectors. Such liberalization would further create win-win opportunities for both our economies," he commented.

Speaking on the upcoming ASEAN Summit, which is to be held in Thailand from Oct. 23 to 25, he said that Singapore hopes to continue to work with the other ASEAN member states on the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015.

Singapore will also be looking to promote the various ASEAN+1 FTAs, especially with dialogue partners that are involved in the East Asia Summit (EAS). Securing such an FTA would go a long way towards facilitating the eventual development of an East Asian Community (EAC) amongst the ASEAN+6 states.

He stressed that East Asia cooperation will bring the region together as an economic unit that contains nearly half of the world's population and with more than one quarter of global gross domestic product (GDP).

"Although we may face challenges in terms of varying levels of preparedness and ambition for an East Asian community, ASEAN will work together and obtain the support of its EAS Dialogue partners and other international agencies and development partners to realize this vision."

"By expanding and deepening economic cooperation among the East Asia countries, we would be able to establish Asia as the current and future driver of the global economy," Lim said.

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