MANILA - Trade ministers from Asean and Hong Kong inked two free trade and investment pacts on Sunday (Nov 12), which they called a signal of their commitment towards free trade.
The agreements will give Asean and Hong Kong better access to each other’s markets, create new business opportunities, and enhance trade and investment flows.
Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau said at the ceremony: “The significance is not limited to building stronger bilateral trade and economic relations between Hong Kong and Asean.
“In the face of protectionist sentiments in other parts of world, these two agreements are in fact a loud and clear vote from all of us here for freer and more open trade,” he added.
Likewise, Philippine Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said: “With this signing, we send the strong message to the world of our outward-oriented drive and economic resolve toward cooperation.”
He added that the Asean-Hong Kong partnership will bring about more job opportunities for the region’s people and businesses, particularly small firms.
Negotiations on the agreements began in 2013, and they are likely to be ratified in two years.
While Hong Kong is part of China, it conducts its economic and trade relations separately from the mainland.
It was Asean’s sixth-largest trading partner last year (2016), while Asean was Hong Kong’s second-largest partner in merchandise trade.
Total merchandise trade between Hong Kong and Asean amounted to HK$833.3 billion (S$145 billion), or about 11 per cent of Hong Kong’s global merchandise trade last year.
Economic ministers’ pow-wow
Asean’s economic ministers also met to discuss the progress of the Asean Economic Community, which envisions an integrated regional market by 2025.
Their discussions set the stage for Asean leaders’ dialogue over the next two days on the integration process, as well as free trade agreement negotiations and other deals with trade partners.
Mr Lopez said that good progress had been made this year in getting the Asean Economic Community off the ground, and in moving discussions on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) forward.
The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement between Asean and the six partners it already has such an agreement with: Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
Mr Lopez added: “But there are still areas that need to be ironed out if we are to finally conclude the negotiations