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ASEAN-China agency to raise FTA awareness

CHINA – The ASEAN-China Center aims to help China and members of the Southeast Asian bloc extract more benefit from the regional free trade agreement, the center’s Secretary-General Ma Mingqiang told China Daily in an exclusive interview.

The inter-governmental organization will provide lectures by economic experts about the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area, which by 2015 will include China and all 10 ASEAN member countries, beginning in May in China, Ma said.

“We will tell businesspeople directly what the ACFTA is and how they can use it reduce their costs and strengthen their companies,” said Ma.

However, many people in China and ASEAN member countries are not aware of the ACFTA.

For instance, the city of Yiwu in Zhejiang province is renowned as a shopping paradise for small commodities, which have a big market in Southeast Asian countries.

But many Yiwu businesspeople are not familiar with the ACFTA and sometimes end up paying higher tariffs when exporting to ASEAN countries.

Similarly, companies in Indonesia, famous for its raw rubber, often sell the natural resource to countries that have higher tariffs.

The population is not aware of the advantages of the ACFTA, said Ma, adding that the center “will go directly to enterprises at the basic level”.

The initial framework agreement of the ACFTA was signed on Nov 4, 2002 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which is the chair country of ASEAN this year and will host the 20th ASEAN Summit on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The ACFTA, which currently includes China and the six original members of ASEAN – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, came into effect on Jan 1, 2010, making it the largest free-trade area in terms of population and the third-largest by nominal GDP at a combined value of US$6 trillion (S$7.5 trillion) in 2008.

The remaining four countries will follow suit in 2015.

According to the ACFTA, tariffs have been eliminated for about 7,880 product categories, or 90 per cent of the imported goods.

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