China-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian nations) Free Trade Area would be completely operative in 2010 as scheduled, according to sources from the Fourth Pan Beibu Gulf Economic Cooperation Forum held recently in Nanning city, the capital of south China’s Guangxi autonomous region.
By then, more than 90 percent products between China and ASEAN nations would enjoy the zero tariff treatment and the Pan Beibu Gulf rim will become an area of the most vigorous economic and trade cooperation between China and ASEAN.
As a new sub-region cooperation scheme under the framework of China-ASEAN (10+1), Pan-Beibu Gulf economic cooperation is expected to attract increasing global attention. The Pan-Beibu Gulf economic cooperation zone comprises seven countries, namely, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and Philippines, which was proposed at the first Forum on Economic Cooperation Beibu Gulf region held in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam in July 2006 and won an ensuing active support and energetic promotion from the governments of China and the related countries.
China-ASEAN bilateral trade reached 231.12 billion US dollars in 2008, up 13.9 percent despite an impact from the ongoing global financial crisis. China and the ASEAN became each other’s fourth largest trade partners, and China’s trade with the Pan Beibu Gulf countries amounted to 226.96 billion dollars, accounting for 98.2 percent of the total trade volume between China and ASEAN.
The first half of 2009 was the toughest time for the whole world with a downturn of global trade due to dwindling demands from overseas markets. Nevertheless, Ma Biao, the chairman of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, said in his speech at the forum that the guangsxi region’s cross-border trade with Vietnam and other southeast neighboring countries rose 8.7 percent in the first half year.
The practice has given an eloquent proof that the enhanced sub-regional cooperation has not only turned local resources of individual countries into regional resources and limited local markets into greater regional markets but also facilitate the absorption and rational use of international capital and exterior resources in a bid to tap each other’s advantages for the common development.
It is particularly compelling to further regional financial cooperation, noted experts and scholars at the recent forum, either proceeding from the present reality of coping with global financial crisis or from the long-term economic planning for the Pan Beibu Gult region.
In April, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced on behalf of the Chinese government that China will set up a 10 billion US dollar "China-ASEAN Fund on Investment Cooperation" to support infrastructural development the region. Over the next three to five years, China planned to offer credit of 15 billion dollars to ASEAN countries, including loans with preferential terms of 1.7 billion dollars in aid for cooperative projects.
China also considers providing a total of 270 million RMB yuan this year in special aid to the less developed ASEAN countries, including Cambodia, the Laos and Myanmar, to help them meet pressing needs and get through the most difficult time.
Moreover, China has proposed speeding up the multi-lateralization process of the Chiang Mai initiative and called for setting up a common foreign reserve pool and extending its scale. Meanwhile, ASEAN finance chiefs in late February agreed to increase the size of joint currency pool to 120 billion dollars from an earlier-proposed 80 billion dollars, to expand their system of bilateral currency swaps under the Chiang Mai Initiative to a more multilateral system, and to accelerate the development of the Asian bond market.
At present, China's State Development Bank (SDB), Industrial and Commerce Bank (ICBC) and Construction Bank (CCB) have all speeded up preparations to set up their subordinate institutions in ASEAN countries, whereas the Singapore-based DBS Group and the Ho Chi Min City-based Sai Gon Thuong Tin Currency Joint Stock Bank have set up their representative offices in the city of Nanning.
The "soft" environment for the Pan Beibu Gulf economic area has continued to improve or upgrade and its "hard" environment, however, is yet to be further improved, as indicated by trade and investment deals signed by various countries. In this context, resources integration should focus on freeway and railway networks from the city of Nanning in south China to Singapore, coastal ports should be revamped to raise their handling capacity, and major river navigation webs be further upgraded to complement one another.
In the Guangxi autonomous region, major breakthroughs have been made with regard to the construction of the Guilin-Beihai Expressway and Nanning-Guangzhou expressway, and the renovation of such leading ports at Fangcheng, Beihai and Qinzhou is now well under way. By the end of this year, ports across Guangxi will have a handling capacity of more than 100 million tons of cargo and approximately 1.4 million 20-foot equivalent container units (TEUS).
By People’s Daily Online and contributed by PD Overseas Edition reporter Li Xia