China, ASEAN Move Toward World's Biggest Free-Trade Zone

China and 10 Southeast Asian countries signed historic trade pacts Nov. 29 to pave the way for the world's biggest free-trade zone by 2010, with a total population of nearly 2 billion people.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his counterparts from the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed the agreements in the Laotian capital Vientiane.

"The agreements signed today show that ties between China and ASEAN have reached a new stage," said Wen. "It shows the relations have now entered into a new period of overall cooperation."

The pacts include an agreement to liberalize tariff and non-tariff barriers on traded goods and one to set up a mechanism to resolve trade disputes.

The trade pact will form the first component of a comprehensive accord planned for completion by 2010 that will include the full liberalization of the services sector.

If completed on time, the overall ASEAN-China deal will result in the creation of the world's biggest free trade zone. It also will enhance China's role as a major growth engine for ASEAN's export-led economies because of its growing appetite for raw materials, finished goods and components.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2004

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