China set to ramp up FTA program

By Yu Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2015-12-17 23:48:01

Agreements can boost reform, global integration: expert

A Chinese customer selects a bottle of Australian wine at a supermarket. Photo: CFP

China will quicken the pace of signing new free trade agreements (FTAs) with neighboring countries and regions, with the aim of establishing a global FTA network and better serving the country's economic development, according to guidelines posted on the central government's official website on Thursday.

In the short term, China needs to speed up FTA negotiations with neighboring countries and regions and lift the level of trade liberalization in existing FTAs, the guidelines said. The country also aims to have at least the same proportion of foreign trade with its FTA partners as most developed and emerging economies do, according to the guidelines.

For the long term, China hopes to expand its FTA network from neighboring countries and regions, as well as countries along the route of the "One Belt, One Road" initiative, to major regional economic groups globally, the guidelines said.

"The guidelines indicate that the country sees developing FTAs with other countries and regions as a long-term strategy, which will bring a bright future for the development of foreign trade," Bai Ming, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, told the Global Times on Thursday.

FTAs offer a way for China to further open up to the world and accelerate domestic reforms, Bai said, noting that they also help to integrate China into the global economy.

So far, China has signed 14 FTAs, 12 of which have been put into effect, covering 22 countries and regions, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) on Thursday.

China's free trade partners include members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as Pakistan, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, Iceland, Switzerland, South Korea and Australia.

China is also currently pursuing FTA negotiations with other countries, including Norway and Sri Lanka, the MOFCOM statement said.

As well as expanding the number of its FTA partners, China also needs to enhance the quality of the cooperation, Bai said. China's close cooperation with ASEAN, South Korea and Australia is of great importance to foreign trade, he noted, adding that there is still potential for building on those relationships.

The FTAs that China has signed with South Korea and Australia will become effective on Sunday, MOFCOM said earlier in December.

With full implementation of the agreement with Australia, tariffs will be lifted on 95 percent of Australian exports, and obstacles will be reduced for Chinese businesses to invest in Australia, Xinhua News Agency reported in June.

It also means that Chinese consumers will be able to buy Australian goods such as beef, dairy products and wine at lower prices.

The guidelines also called for more trial programs in domestic pilot free trade zones.

"Many trials have already been put into effect in the finance sector in the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone," which could help in developing new FTAs, Zhou Yu, director of the Research Center of International Finance at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

"Experience will be helpful for the country in cooperating with other economies in the future, and can help to reduce potential risks," Zhou said.

Besides expanding China's FTA network, the guidelines also encourage the opening-up of the services sector in areas including finance, education, culture, and healthcare, and access requirements should also be relaxed for sectors such as child and elderly care, architectural design, accounting and auditing, logistics and e-commerce.

Further opening-up of the services sector will be helpful in adjusting the country's economic structure and in creating new sources of employment, the guidelines said.

Posted in: Economy

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