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ASEAN inks free trade, investment pacts with Hong Kong in Manila

China hails move, terms it as a 'loud and clear' vote against regional trade protectionism

Reuters  |  Manila 

ASEAN
A view of the Philippine International Convention Center, a venue of the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Manila, Philippines. (Photo: Reuters)

on Sunday signed free trade and investment pacts with the ten-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in what one of the Chinese territory's senior officials called a "loud and clear" vote against rising regional trade protectionism.

The pacts conclude nearly three years of talks, are expected to take effect on January 1 at the earliest, and aim to bring "deeper and bolder" integration of market access with the bloc, said Edward Yau, Hong Kong's commerce and development secretary.

"In the face of protectionist sentiments in other parts of the world, these two agreements are in fact a loud and clear vote from all of us here for freer and more open trade," Yau said.

"Hong Kong, being a free trade promoter and advocate of a strong, rule-based multilateral trading system, will continue to take this pathway, continue to do our utmost."

Total merchandise trade between and was HK$833 billion ($107 billion) last year, official figures show. Total services trade was HK$121 billion ($16 billion) in 2015.

The China Free (AHKCFTA) was signed on the sidelines of a summit of the regional grouping in the Philippine capital of

It came after leaders attending an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in agreed to tackle "unfair trade practices" and "market-distorting subsidies" in a statement on Saturday that bore the imprint of US President Donald Trump's efforts to reshape the global trade landscape.

That summit offered a contrast between the vision of US President Donald Trump's "America First" policy and a traditional consensus favouring multinational deals that China now seeks to champion.

While already has one of the world's freest and most open economies, the pacts will see many countries gradually eliminate or slash customs duties on goods from the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Professional services are also expected to benefit, with increased investment flows, Yau added.

The grouping includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and

($1=7.8009 dollars)

First Published: Sun, November 12 2017. 15:05 IST
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