Asia-Pa­cific re­gion weighs free trade op­por­tu­ni­ties

China Daily (USA) - - XI’S VISIT - By ZHONG­NAN zhong­nan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Set­ting up an Asia-Pa­cific free trade zone will end the frag­men­ta­tion that has un­der­mined ef­forts to in­te­grate the re­gion and boost global eco­nomic growth, an­a­lysts have said.

China plans to play a lead­ing role in the pro­posed FTZ and ex­pects all par­ties con­cerned to start ne­go­ti­a­tions as soon as pos­si­ble, ac­cord­ing to Shi Yaobin, China’s vice-min­is­ter of fi­nance.

The FTZ frame­work, which has 21 mem­bers, in­clud­ing coun­tries that signed the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship and other trad­ing pow­ers such as China and South Korea, aims to pro­mote co­op­er­a­tion, guard against pro­tec­tion­ism and fa­cil­i­tate fair com­pe­ti­tion.

How­ever, one prob­lem area could be the ex­is­tence of lowlevel free trade agree­ments in goods only, not ser­vices, which of­fi­cials say could af­fect the de­vel­op­ment of re­gional trade.

There are more than 200 FTAs re­lat­ing to the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, and vary­ing stan­dards, pref­er­en­tial poli­cies and over­lap­ping— or even clash­ing — rules on the ori­gin of goods have led to fierce com­pe­ti­tion among trad­ing blocs.

The pre­vail­ing sit­u­a­tion is not con­ducive to deep­en­ing eco­nomic and trade co­op­er­a­tion be­tween coun­tries in the Asi­aPa­cific re­gion, data from the Min­istry of Com­merce in­di­cate.

The Asia-Pa­cific FTZ con­cept was first pro­posed in 2004 and later writ­ten into the dec­la­ra­tion of the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion lead­ers’ meet­ing in 2006. China pro­posed start­ing work on a fea­si­bil­ity study in 2014.

“Talks on the pro­posed FTZ would be in line with the boom in FTAs glob­ally as well as cru­cial for mak­ing coun­tries in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion more open,” said Tu Xin­quan, a pro­fes­sor at Beij in g’ s Univer­sity of In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness and Eco­nom­ics.

The re­gion is es­sen­tial to global se­cu­rity, ac­count­ing for 40 per­cent of the world’ s pop­u­la­tion ,48 per­cent of global trade and 57 per­cent of global out­put last year.

“Top­ics such as trade in goods and ser­vices, in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty and in­ter­na­tional trade rules, as well as new-age top­ics such as e-com­merce, mar­ket com­pe­ti­tion and the en­vi­ron­ment, will all be ne­go­ti­ated dur­ing the talks,” Tu said.

To fos­ter a pos­i­tive free trade en­vi­ron­ment, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment opened seven new FTZs in Au­gust. The na­tion has 14 FTAs with 22 coun­tries and re­gions, and is ne­go­ti­at­ing more, in­clud­ing a three-way FTA with Ja­pan and South Korea and one with Sri Lanka. In ad­di­tion, there is the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship, an FTA in­volv­ing 16 coun­tries in South­east Asia.

Zhang Ying, a re­searcher at the Chi­nese Academy of In­ter­na­tional Trade and Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion in Bei­jing, said as China ex­pands its FTA net­work, the gov­ern­ment has made free trade in goods and ser­vices a pri­or­ity.

“It has re­laxed the rules to make ac­cess to the Chi­nese mar­ket eas­ier, fa­cil­i­tated trade ... and en­hanced eco­nomic and tech­no­log­i­cal co­op­er­a­tion,” he said.

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