Nanning, October 30:

China today called for work to be speeded up on efforts to create a m-assive free trade zone w-ith Southeast Asia that will incorporate a third of world’s populatio-n. Chinese premier Wen Jiabao also told a one-day leaders’ summit with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that deepening economic ties beyond the free trade plans would benefit both sides.

ASEAN and China unveiled a plan four years ago to create their free trade zone by 2010. It will have a combined population of nearly two billion people and a gross domestic product of about three trillion dollars. As part of their 2002 framework agreement on economic cooperation, tariff cuts and a freer trade in goods between China and ASEAN began in July last year, while talks on liberalising trade in services and investment are ongoing. Wen said a 2004 deal for trade in goods as part of the framework ‘should be fully implemented.’

“And negotiations on trade in service and investment should be accelerated to speed up the process of establishing the China-ASEAN F-ree Trade Area,” he said.

China’s efforts to advance free trade with Southeast Asia are more advanced than those of other East Asian nations, and Wen called for another agreement to cement economic ties. “We should consider signing a follow-up pact on expanding economic and trade ties,” he said, without elaborating on the proposal. As part of efforts to boost ties, Wen announced that China would contribute $1 mi-llion to an ASEAN Development Fund.