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Hopes for China-ASEAN Expo to boost ties

By Li Jiabao  (China Daily)

11:04, July 24, 2013

China will expand imports from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to balance bilateral trade while urging cooperation in an upcoming expo after South China Sea territorial disputes caused rifts with some of the organization's 10 members, a senior commerce official said on Tuesday.

"Bilateral trade with ASEAN members is basically balanced and we started to receive a surplus in the second half of last year," Vice-Minister of Commerce Gao Yan said at a news briefing.

"But China will take active measures to expand imports from ASEAN members. That includes enhancing trade facilitation through cooperation with them in customs and quality checking." She added that China will send delegations for investment and purchase of agricultural products.

The 10th China-ASEAN Expo, known as CAEXPO, will be held from September 3 to 6 in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. The Philippines is scheduled to be the Country of Honor.

Responding to the marine disputes between China and some ASEAN members, including the Philippines, Gao said the Department of Trade and Industry of the Philippines has confirmed the schedule and set up a team to prepare for the event.

"The approaching CAEXPO aims to boost economic cooperation between China and ASEAN members. We expect all sides to focus on cooperation and develop a positive atmosphere," Gao said.

China is the largest trade partner of ASEAN members while they are China's third-largest trade partner.

Bilateral trade between China and ASEAN members experienced fast growth over the past decade and hit $400.1 billion in 2012 with Chinese exports amounting to $204.3 billion and imports standing at $195.8 billion, leaving a trade surplus of $8.5 billion, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

China has long had a trade deficit from the bilateral trade. The deficit volume registered $16.4 billion in 2003, accounting for 21 percent of the year's bilateral trade size, and reached $20.1 billion in 2004, about 19 percent of the two-way trade volume in the year, Gao said.

"In the near future, China is likely to maintain a trade surplus with ASEAN members," said Zhao Jianglin, an economics expert at the China Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies.

"The reverse of the trade structure mainly comes from the low competitiveness of the manufactured products of ASEAN members. The bilateral free trade agreement now obliges the 10 countries to lower tariffs on consumer exports to China.

"What's more, the fast economic growth of the Southeast Asia countries and regions encourages the buying of high-tech and mechanical and electronic products from China."

Gao added the structure of trade between China and ASEAN members has been developing "positively as the high-tech products and mechanical and electronic products gain more share in the overall trade".

"It's likely for China-ASEAN trade to achieve its $500 billion goal in 2015," she added.

"China's opening-up will further enlarge and improve the two-way trade while its economic restructuring will encourage more enterprises to invest abroad. We will join hands with ASEAN members to forge a favorable environment for Chinese investment, which will further encourage bilateral trade," Gao said.

By the end of June 2013, Chinese overall direct investment in ASEAN members had risen to about $30 billion, about 5.1 percent of China's total outward direct investment. ASEAN members have become the country's fourth-largest investment destination, according to the ministry.

"The region's fast development has a keen need for Chinese investment as well as high-tech products. It is unlikely the marine disputes will affect trade expansion and investment cooperation because both sides need a peaceful environment," Zhao said.

"But it's necessary for China to balance bilateral trade to guard against a rise of trade remedy investigations because the region is China's leading export destination among emerging markets."

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