24 November 2006
China, Pakistan sign free trade agreement
ISLAMABAD : Chinese President Hu Jintao and Pakistani counterpart Pervez Musharraf oversaw the signing of a landmark free trade deal Friday and vowed to take the allies’ "evergreen" relationship to new heights.
The two countries also agreed to cooperate on airborne early warning radar planes and inked a slew of other agreements to boost their ties in the spheres of defence, energy and the economy.
Officials have said the trade agreement could triple bilateral trade to US$15 billion within five years in a key move for both the Asian giant and the developing country.
"This serves the fundamental interests of our two peoples and is also conducive to the peace and development of our region," Hu told a news conference after hour-long talks with Musharraf.
"We want to work with Pakistan to raise our strategic ties to a new level," added the first Chinese leader, the first to visit the Islamic republic for a decade.
Musharraf, whose country is keen to reinforce its 55-year-old ties with Beijing amid concern India and China are becoming increasingly close, said the "evergreen relationship of Pakistan and China will remain for all time".
The presidents watched their ministers of commerce ink the trade pact and other accords, including a separate five-year development programme which the Chinese news agency Xinhua said was the first of its kind for Beijing.
They also agreed to set up a joint investment company.
But while Hu said that Beijing would continue to cooperate with Pakistan’s nuclear power industry - China has built one reactor here and is helping to construct another - he did not announce any new deal.
Pakistani officials had earlier dismissed "speculative" reports that China would unveil a major new atomic agreement with Pakistan similar to one made between its arch-rival India and the United States earlier this year.
Separately Pakistan’s Air Force said it had agreed with China to jointly develop aircraft equipped with long-range early warning radars.
"The same may be delivered to Pakistan in coming years," it said in a statement, without specifying a timeframe.
Beijing remains Islamabad’s largest arms supplier and the two are jointly developing the JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft.
China has also invested millions of dollars in a deep sea port in southwest Pakistan to access the Arabian Sea. — AFP/ch