BANGKOK, Sept. 9 (Xinhua) -- Economic ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China agreed on Monday to strengthen trade and economic relations between both sides, and synergize the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative with the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity.
The economic ministers met at the 18th AEM (ASEAN Economic Ministers)-MOFCOM (China's Ministry of Commerce) Consultations, which was co-chaired by Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce Jurin Laksanawisit and Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen.
In a joint statement, the ministers reaffirmed ASEAN and China's strong commitment to strengthen the robust trade and economic relations between both sides.
The ministers particularly welcomed the increase in total merchandise trade between ASEAN and China, which, according to preliminary ASEAN data, reached 479.4 billion U.S. dollars in 2018, accounting for 17.1 percent of ASEAN's total merchandise trade.
The statement noted that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows from China to ASEAN amounted to 10.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2018, accounting for 6.6 percent of ASEAN's total FDI.
It also said that China has maintained its position as ASEAN's largest trading partner since 2009 and in 2018 China was ASEAN's third external source of FDI among ASEAN's dialogue partners, while according to statistics from the Chinese side, ASEAN has overtaken the U.S. as China's second-largest trading partner for the first half of 2019.
The ministers also noted the progress of the ASEAN-China FTA (ACFTA) implementation and the welcomed the entry into force of the Protocol to Amend the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Certain Agreements thereunder between ASEAN and China (ACFTA Upgrading Protocol) for all Parties.
They welcomed the implementation of the enhanced rules on trade in goods under the protocol in August 2019.
The ministers also welcomed the ACFTA Joint Committee's decision to commence discussions on the further liberalization of trade in goods at the ACFTA Joint Committee Meeting next year with possible discussions on the preparation of the meeting done intersessionally.
According to the statement, the ministers expressed appreciation for China's support in enhancing ASEAN connectivity and integration through the various projects in the areas of finance, transportation and infrastructure.
They welcomed and encouraged the continuous effort to synergize the Belt and Road Initiative with the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity to strengthen ASEAN Community building, as well as to create win-win cooperation through the utilization of local resources.
The ministers also encouraged the successful implementation of two projects under the ACFTA grant of 50 million RMB (approximately 7.3 million U.S. dollars) by China, namely the Outreach Programme on the revised Rules of Origin under ACFTA Upgrading Protocol and Capacity Building for Frontline Officers and Enhance ASEAN Tourism Digital Platforms.
They also welcomed China's organization of the 2nd China International Import Expo on Nov. 5-10 in Shanghai, and underscored that it will be a good opportunity to showcase ASEAN goods and products in China.