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Manila, Beijing hope for China-ASEAN free trade zone soon

Philippine Daily Inquirer

2 September 2004

Manila, Beijing hope for China-ASEAN free trade zone soon

Agence France-Presse

BEIJING, China — Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Chinese President Hu Jintao expressed hope on Wednesday for the early establishment of a planned free trade zone linking China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Meeting with Arroyo on the first day of her three-day visit to China, Hu said he hoped to speed up negotiations with the ASEAN and launch the free-trade pact "on time," state television CCTV said.

Arroyo was quoted by CCTV as saying she believed progress would be made in negotiations, with mutual efforts by China and the ASEAN, which includes the Philippines.

The proposed accord would create the world’s biggest free trade zone of nearly two billion people with a combined gross domestic product of two trillion dollars by 2010.

Talks had hit a snag with ASEAN countries unable to agree which products should be included in a basket of goods to be liberalized. Some of the ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, were believed to want a longer timeframe to bring down tariffs on sensitive farm products. The impasse threatened to delay an agreement on the chapter covering trade in goods — the first in the negotiations process.

On Wednesday, Hu and Arroyo greeted each other warmly in her first visit since she was re-elected in May.

Calling Arroyo an "old friend of China," Hu praised her for making "very important contributions" to the growth in relations.

He said Arroyo’s choice of China for her first state visit since re-election shows the "great importance" she and her government attach to Sino-Philippines relations.

Hu said the countries should deepen cooperation in agricultural technology, machinery, infrastructure construction and natural resource exploration, according to the Xinhua news agency.

The two sides should also work together to crack down on cross-border crimes more effectively, Hu said.

Arroyo invited Hu to visit the Philippines next year to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, Xinhua said.

The two leaders witnessed the signing of five agreements on visas, fisheries industry cooperation, tourism cooperation, joint marine seismic undertakings and the North Railway project.

No details were given.

Some 120 Philippine entrepreneurs accompanied Arroyo to China. The visit is highly focused on bilateral trade, which surged 78.7 percent year-on-year to 9.4 billion dollars by 2003.

China last year was the Philippines’ sixth largest trading partner, sixth largest source of imports and eighth largest export market.

Before arriving in Beijing, Arroyo made a short tour of southern China’s Guangzhou city in Guangdong province, where she told Guangdong Governor Huang Huahua she hoped to promote trade with the province, Xinhua said.

Before Arroyo’s visit, a Philippines official said Arroyo would also seek to boost security and political cooperation with China, one of three countries, including Japan and the United States, which Arroyo’s administration acknowledges will shape the future of the Asia Pacific region.

However, the official said he did not know whether the thorny issue of the disputed Spratlys chain of islands in the South China Sea, would be raised.

Arroyo is scheduled to meet China’s military chief Jiang Zemin and Premier Wen Jiabao Thursday.