Negotiations to upgrade the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement are expected to be concluded by the end of this year, Vice-Minister of Commerce Gao Yan said on Wednesday.
Gao said China is negotiating finer details on services and goods trading, as well as investment and technology collaboration with 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Three rounds of meetings have been held since the various parties involved began formal negotiations in August 2014, said sources.
"China will fully tap the business potential, and expand two-way investment, in major sectors involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, including big-ticket projects involving global production, industrial parks and other cross-border projects," Gao told a news briefing in Beijing.
The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiatives were proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, with the purpose of rejuvenating the two ancient trading routes and further opening up markets for Chinese companies.
Bilateral trade between China and ASEAN rose by 1.6 percent year-on-year to $224.38 billion in the first half of this year.
Trade with ASEAN accounted for about 12 percent of China’s total foreign trade, and the country is now the region’s largest trading partner.
ASEAN is China’s third-biggest trading partner, with bilateral trade between the two worth $480.1 billion in 2014, up 8.23 percent from a year earlier.
The region hopes to achieve bilateral trade with China worth $500 billion by the end of this year and $1 trillion by 2020, with two-way investment levels of $150 billion by 2020.
Gao said talks on the planned Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, are also making headway, with China and ASEAN members reaching a breakthrough in seven areas including intellectual property protection, legal mechanism and competition policies.
Yu Ping, vice-president of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, said ASEAN countries remain major destinations for Chinese companies.
China has built a number of major bridges, ports, roads and power stations, and cooperated on other large-scale infrastructure projects within ASEAN, such as the Suramadu Bridge and the Hydropower Plant in Bandung, in Indonesia’s West Java, the Myitsone Dam project in Myanmar, and the China-Laos and China-Vietnam Cross-border Economic Cooperation Zones.
"These projects have been critical in improving local infrastructure construction and boosting the economic growth of the countries concerned," Yu said.
"China will continue with efforts to develop the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and participate more actively in infrastructure construction in ASEAN countries," he said.
Two-way investment between China and ASEAN exceeded $130 billion by the end of 2014, over $90 billion of which came from ASEAN countries into China.
In an effort to compete with China’s growing economic influence, trade ministers from 12 countries including the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and Chile are currently gathering in Hawaii until July 31 to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The treaty is expected to compete with the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement and the RCEP.