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China to advance free trade talks with Arabs, Israel

2015-03-05 09:34 Xinhua Web Editor: Mo Hong'e

China vows to advance talks on free trade zones with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Israel, Premier Li Keqiang said here Thursday while delivering his government work report.[Special coverage]

The GCC, a regional political and economic alliance, includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. China started free trade negotiations with the bloc in 2004.

China is endeavoring to complete the talks on upgrading the Free Trade Zone between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and on establishing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Li said at the opening of the Third Session of the 12th National People's Congress.

China is also working to build the Asia-Pacific Free Trade Zone and will continue negotiations on investment agreements with the United States and the European Union, he said.

At the same time, Li said, China will move faster to implement the strategy of developing free trade zones, ensuring that agreements on free trade zones with the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Australia are signed as soon as possible.

Negotiations on the China-Japan-ROK Free Trade Zone will also be stepped up, the premier said.

"As a responsible and enterprising nation," Li said, "China champions the vision of promoting mutually beneficial development, boosting the global economy and encouraging economic globalization."

The free trade talks are part of China's efforts to pursue the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiatives.

Proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, the Belt and Road initiatives aim to connect the Pacific, the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic. The Middle East was and is at crossroads of international trade flows and cultural exchange.

A 40 billion-U.S. dollars Silk Road Fund has been put into operation since February, providing investment and financing services to economies and private players along the route.

The strategy of developing free trade zones coincides with the Belt and Road initiatives. China is making arrangements for more free trade zones with countries along the Belt and Road, Wang Shouwen, assistant minister of commerce, said to Xinhua.

The network of free trade zones, once established, is also expected to boost regional connectivity, which is pushed forward by China and its neighbors.

Connectivity was one key theme of the 22nd Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting last year in Beijing. An APEC Connectivity Blueprint 2015-2025 was endorsed at the meeting.

Connectivity prioritizes three topics: advancing regional economic integration, promoting innovative development, economic reform and growth, and strengthening comprehensive development in infrastructure and connectivity.

"We will move faster to strengthen infrastructure connectivity with China's neighbors, simplify customs clearance procedures and build international logistics gateways," Premier Li said Thursday.

Developing free trade zones with foreign countries is a major step of China to further promote reform and opening-up under the new scenario, which is now often dubbed by the Chinese leadership as a stage of "new normal."

China has expanded the idea of pilot free frade zones, the first of which was established in 2013 in Shanghai, to Guangdong in south, Tianjin in north and Fujian in east.

Those pilot zones in China are believed to serve as major interfaces of the country to international free trade zones, currently with priorities on arrangements along the Belt and Road.

"We will extend good practices developed in these zones to the rest of the country so that such zones become leading reform and opening up areas, each with its own distinctive features," Li said.

While the previous free trade between China and other countries was at a relatively low level, experiments in those zones are expected to accumulate experience for China to achieve a higher level of free trade with its trade partners, said Li Guanghui, vice president of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation.

The expansion of free trade zones will also help China better protect its interests in bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations, he said.


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