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|Wednesday, November 07, 2001, updated at 17:23(GMT+8)|
Free Trade Zone to Promote Regional EconomyChina and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to set up a free trade area within 10 years, enhance political dialogue and strengthen co-operation efforts, said a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Leaders attending the fifth China-ASEAN summit on November 6 in Brunei also established five priority areas for mutual co-operation and approved a report submitted by the Expert Group for China-ASEAN Economic Co-operation suggesting that China and ASEAN countries establish the free trade area.
The idea, which aims to cut tariffs and remove non-tariff barriers between China and ASEAN, was first suggested by Premier Zhu Rongji at last year's summit in Singapore.
The proposal would help create a free market encompassing 1.7 billion people, the largest market of its kind in the world.
Despite the current global economic slowdown, the trade volume between China and ASEAN reached US$30.3 billion for the first three quarters of the year, an increase of 6.8 per cent over the same period last year.
Zhu said China is ready to work with ASEAN to launch negotiations about the free trade area.China will grant preferential tariff treatment to three of the least developed countries of ASEAN -- Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar -- and support ASEAN's efforts to narrow the development gap among its members.
Defining the priority fields for bilateral near-term co-operation, Zhu proposed that the two sides should develop more co-operation in agriculture, information and communications technologies, human resources development, mutual investment and the development of the Mekong River.
Zhu's suggestions were echoed by all ASEAN leaders, according to the spokesman.
China will offer US$5 million for the development of the Mekong River Basin as well as financial assistance in building one-third of the Laos' section of the Kunming-Bangkok highway. China also remains supportive of the construction of the Pan-Asia railway and will immediately begin construction or revamping of the relevant highways within its territory once ASEAN finalizes the route, Zhu said.
Zhu suggested that the two sides establish a meeting mechanism between the ministers of communications to strengthen exchanges and co-ordination.
Besides increasing economic co-operation, both sides have agreed to enhance mutual political dialogue and co-operation, said the spokesman.Zhu said China firmly adheres to the policy of strengthening its friendly and good-neighbourly ties and co-operation with ASEAN countries.
China supports ASEAN's efforts to safeguard national unity and territorial integrity as well as its integration process and increasing role in regional and international affairs, Zhu said.
"A united, stable and prosperous ASEAN will promote peace and development in Asia and the world at large," he added.
China approves of the purposes and principles of the Treaty of Amity and Co-operation in Southeast Asia and gives favorable consideration to joining it. China is also ready to promptly sign the Protocol of the Treaty on Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, Zhu said.
He said China is prepared to complete at an early date consultations with ASEAN on the code of conduct for the South China Sea region in order to achieve a more stable situation in the area.
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