ASEAN-China open free trade area to rival world’s biggest

JAKARTA, December 30, 2009 (AFP) – China and Southeast Asia establish the world’s biggest free trade area (FTA) on Friday, liberalising billions of dollars in goods and investments covering a market of 1.7 billion consumers. Eight years in the making, the ASEAN-China FTA will rival the European Union and the North American Free Trade Area in terms of value and surpass those markets in terms of population.

Officials hope it will expand Asia’s trade reach while boosting intra-regional trade that has already been expanding at 20 percent a year.

“In 2010 we are sending a strong signal that ASEAN is open,” H.E Sundram Pushpanathan, of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), told AFP.

China has just overtaken the United States to become ASEAN’s third largest trading partner, and will leap Japan and the EU to become “number one” within the first few years of the FTA, said Pushpanathan, Deputy Secretary-General for the ASEAN Economic Community.

Under the agreement, China and the six founding ASEAN countries — Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand — are to eliminate barriers to investment and tariffs on 90 percent of products.

Later ASEAN members, including Vie