China is setting its sights on an ambitious plan to further expand its global network of high-standard free trade areas (FTAs) in 2024, building on the remarkable progress it has made in negotiating FTAs over the past year. Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen has unveiled these intentions, highlighting the country's commitment to increasing openness and promoting regional economic growth.
China has already secured 22 FTAs with 29 countries or regions, accounting for one-third of its total trade value. To continue sharing the benefits of its opening-up policies and boosting regional economies, China is intensifying its efforts in FTA negotiations for the year ahead.
Vice Minister Wang stated, "We have a full agenda for FTA negotiations this year," underscoring the country's dedication to fostering international economic partnerships.
Expanding the FTA Network
One of the key priorities for China in 2024 is to conclude negotiations for Version 3.0 of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area. Trade between China and ASEAN has seen consistent annual growth, with ASEAN becoming China's largest trading partner in 2023 for the fourth consecutive year. The upcoming version of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area is expected to bring improvements in various areas, including trade in goods, investment, digital economy, and green economy. This advancement is likely to have a positive impact on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as well.
China's FTA agenda also includes the completion of negotiations with Honduras and the upgrade of FTAs with Peru. Additionally, negotiations or upgrades with the Gulf Cooperation Council, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, and Switzerland are in progress. On a broader scale, China aims to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA).
China has initiated efforts to align with CPTPP rules, introducing related documents and reform measures in regions like Shanghai. Wang Shouwen noted that if successful, these practices will be replicated in other parts of China.
Pursuing High-Standard Openness
In the past year, China adopted a negative-list model for services and investment opening-up, signing an FTA with Nicaragua and upgrading the FTA with Singapore. These milestones represent a significant step forward in China's pursuit of high-standard FTAs, particularly in areas like services and investment.
Experts believe there is ample room for China to collaborate with RCEP members in various sectors, including consumer goods trade, cross-border e-commerce, service trade, and investment.
China's commitment to RCEP has yielded tangible benefits, with a 5.3% increase in foreign trade value with 14 RCEP members in 2023 compared to the pre-agreement period in 2021. Tariff concessions and tax breaks have boosted trade between China and RCEP countries.
Looking ahead, China's strategy to develop its FTA network into a high-standard one involves increasing the proportion of zero-tariff products, promoting comprehensive opening-up of service trade and investment through market-access negative lists, and incorporating trade rules related to the digital economy, green economy, standard certification, and government procurement into new FTA negotiations.
China's commitment to expanding its global FTA network underscores its dedication to fostering international economic cooperation and maintaining its role as a significant contributor to global trade.