Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the 23rd APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Manila, the Philippines, Nov. 19, 2015. (Photo: Xinhua/Rao Aimin)
President Xi Jinping proposed on Thursday speeding up construction of an Asia-Pacific free trade area that will account for more than half the world's GDP. [Special coverage]
This acceleration should take place at an early date, Xi said in a speech at the annual APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, in Manila.
"We need to finish the united strategic studies as scheduled ... to get well prepared for work in the next phase," he said.
APEC leaders took a historic step last year by launching the process to set up the trade area.
A free trade zone encompassing the 21 APEC members should potentially be implemented no later than 2025 if agreements can be reached－just under 20 years after the original proposal was put forward.
Vice-Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen has said this trade area has become a new objective for APEC regional integration.
China is willing to work with all parties to complete a collective strategic study on the area by the end of next year, Wang said.
Xi said the process for the free trade area was started last year and a blueprint was drawn up on connectivity.
"This year, we continued to focus on formulating strategic frameworks and activity plans in various fields," he said, adding that China has delivered to APEC a report on implementation of the results reached in Beijing.
Xi also called for concerted efforts to boost the openness of the Asia-Pacific economy and safeguard multilateral trading systems.
Wang Yusheng, executive director of the Strategy Research Center at the China International Studies Research Fund, said bilateral and small free trade areas had increasingly emerged in the Asia-Pacific region in recent years.
Zhang Jianping, director of the International Economic Cooperation Institute at the National Development and Reform Commission, said the free trade area will greatly increase efficiency in regional trade.
Fariborz Moshirian, director of the Institute of Global Finance at the University of New South Wales, has told Xinhua News Agency that the economic integration of APEC members under the agreement will be more effective for trade than the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership－but only if all members can work together.
Also on Thursday, Xi spoke about new development engines for the economy across the region.
He suggested supporting small and medium-sized enterprises wanting to get involved in the global market, and expanding cooperation in fields including urbanization, the Internet economy and the blue economy.
He said China will host the first APEC high-level forum on urbanization next year, providing a platform for such cooperation.
Xi also expressed his appreciation to the Philippines for its efforts in preparing for the APEC meeting.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed Xi's attendance at the meeting on Nov 9, despite territorial issues with the Philippines over the South China Sea.