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HK, Asean sign free trade deal

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, on Sunday signed a free trade agreement at the sidelines of the 31st Asean summit and related meetings in Manila.

The Philippines’ Department of Trade and Industry said the Asean-Hong Kong, China Free Trade Agreement is part of the region’s efforts to expand external economic relations to foster greater trade opportunities in the Asean Economic Community.

“This will open more opportunities for Asean as we ensure greater market access for our products and sustained flow of foreign direct investments,” said Trade Secretary and 2017 Asean Economic chair Ramon Lopez.

The two parties also signed the Asean-Hong Kong Investment agreement.

Lopez said the two agreements would provide job opportunities for people and enhance collaboration among businesses, especially the micro, small and medium enterprises.

AHKFTA is Asean’s sixth free trade agreement with external partners, after China, Korea, Japan, India and Australia and New Zealand.

AHKFTA covers trade in goods, rules of origin, non-tariff measures, customs procedures and trade facilitation, trade remedies, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, trade in services, intellectual property rights and economic and technical cooperation.

Lopez said in the case of the Philippines, the lead country for creating an inclusive and innovative region, the deals would provide more opportunities for MSMEs and to the country’s export industries, given Hong Kong’s role as a gateway to the China market and their tourism markets.

Hong Kong was Philippine’s third top export destination in the first eight months, with $5.55 billion worth of exports equivalent to 13.18 percent of total exports.

Investments from Hong Kong reached $10.74 million in the first half, making it the 12th largest source of investments in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, Lopez said the the Philippines aimed to conclude Asean 2017 chairmanship with big strides in economic and bilateral relations specifically on Asean free trade agreements with six external trade partners.

Lopez officially opened the summit Sunday, citing the need to come up with stronger measures to ensure the success of Asean integration into one Asean Economic Community.

“We worked doubly hard on enhancing our external partnerships. These include upgrading and enhancing our existing free trade agreements, intensifying our efforts to complete on-going FTA negotiations, considering new FTA partnerships and strengthening our economic cooperation mechanisms. Nonetheless, there is much work that needs to be done in order to ensure that we stay the course,” he said.

The Asean economic ministers are set to discuss outstanding issues in FTA negotiation during the three-day summit.  

Significant progress has been achieved in moving the negotiations for the protocol to amend the Asean Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

“But there are still areas that need to be further deliberated and ironed out if we are to finally conclude the negotiations,” Lopez said.

Lopez also underscored the good progress made by the group in getting the Asean Economic Community 2025 off the ground.

“We’ve managed to do this by concentrating our efforts on laying the foundation for the implementation of the AEC Blueprint 2025 through the Sectoral Action Plans and the Consolidated Strategic Action Plan,” he said.

Source: Manila Standard

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