APEC sets ball rolling for free trade

Updated: 2014-08-16 07:46

By Li Jiabao and Zhong Nan(China Daily)

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Members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum have agreed to begin moves to form a free trade area for the region, a senior official said on Friday.

It was widely agreed to continue to promote regional economic integration and begin the process of forming a Free Trade Area for Asia-Pacific, said Zhang Jun, director of the Department of International Economic Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

It was also agreed to further promote economic structural reform, facilitate innovation, and strengthen regional links to sustain economic development in the Asia-Pacific region, Zhang said.

These topics will be discussed in November at the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in Beijing.

China began preparations for APEC meetings in December. The third senior officials' meeting and related meetings are ongoing in the capital.

Zhang said the Asia-Pacific region has the responsibility of being an engine for the world economy. Expectations for growth are higher than in previous years, while destabilizing factors and uncertainties remain.

"The important roles that some APEC members play in the world economy mean that the way in which they develop will enormously influence this economy," he said.

"The great significance of the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting is that leaders will be able to build consensus on these important issues that will lead to future cooperation in the Asia-Pacific," Zhang said.

APEC's 21 members contribute about 57 percent of global GDP and 46 percent of world trade. The Asia-Pacific free trade area was proposed in 2006.

At the APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting in Qingdao, Shandong province, in May, all sides agreed on the development of a road map for APEC's contribution to the free trade area.

Sheng Bin, director of the China APEC Academy at Nankai University in Tianjin, said the free trade area will have strategic significance as it will provide the possibility for the region's mega-FTAs converging.

The mega-FTAs are the United States-led Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, steered by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

"China intends to win APEC members' consensus on starting the official feasibility study for the free trade area in 2015 and officially start negotiations in 2020. But some members are opposed to a new mega-FTA, claiming it will dent the progress of the Trans-Pacific Partnership," Sheng said.

He said that if progress was made on the Asia-Pacific free trade area at the November meeting, it would mark a milestone.

Contact the writers at lijiabao@chinadaily.com.cn and zhongnan@chinadaily.com.cn