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China Focus: Change and hope, five years after China-ASEAN Free Trade Area established

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Tips:NANNING, Jan. 9 (Xinhua) -- Vietnamese merchant Do Thi Ngan, who has been doing business in southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region for more than 10 years, is looking forward to a more frui
 NANNING, Jan. 9 (Xinhua) -- Vietnamese merchant Do Thi Ngan, who has been doing business in southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region for more than 10 years, is looking forward to a more fruitful 2015.
This January marks the fifth anniversary of the establishment of China-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Free Trade Area (FTA), and Do says she has seen big changes throughout the years.
In the 1990s, she and several other traders brought a truckload of lychees and plums to China, and returned to Vietnam with it full of tangerines and apples.
However, infrastructure and logistical issues meant that, initially, business did not go so well, but the establishment of the China-ASEAN FTA was to change that, as fruit was to enjoy the FTA's zero tariff status.
"Public transportation is also improving," she said. "Now my business has grown and annually I can sell hundreds of tons of fruit in Vietnam."
The China-ASEAN FTA is the biggest FTA among developing countries, covers the largest population in the world. It is the third largest in terms of nominal gross domestic product (GDP), trailing the European Economic Area and North American FTA.
In 2010, about 1.76 million tons of fruit was exported from China to ASEAN countries, while import stood at 2.14 billion tons. The movement of fruit through Pingxiang Port, which Do uses, in 2010 was just over 1 million tons, three years later it was 1.3 million.
The initial framework agreement was signed in 2002 in Cambodia, when trade volume between China and ASEAN countries was valued at 54.8 billion U.S. dollars. Figures from 2013 show this to have soared to 443.6 billion dollars.
In the first 11 months of 2014 trade volume increased at a rate of 8 percent. In addition, per capita GDP has more than doubled in the ten states covered by the FTA.
The FTA has helped to deepen exchanges between China and ASEAN members. During the past decade, the movement of people between China and ASEAN rose from 3.87 million to 18 million.
Xu Ningning, executive president of the China-ASEAN business council, expects cooperation between the two sides in 2015 to grow stronger. The trade goal for this year is 500 billion dollars.
"This year will be the 65th year of China-Indonesia diplomatic relations; as well as 65 years with Vietnam, 40 years with the Philippines, and 25 years with Singapore," Xu said. "So it is a good opportunity for development."
Other experts were more cautious and drew attention to issues that needed solving.
"Some enterprises in the FTA lack regulatory awareness and social responsibility," said Yin Zonghua, vice president of the China council for the Promotion of International Trade. "Legal risks are sometimes underestimated and channels to seek legal consultation are limited."
Zhang Yunling, director of the academic division of international studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, believes the service trade market still has accessibility challenges.
But fruit seller Do remains optimistic. In 2013, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for an "upgraded version" of the FTA, pledging economic and trade cooperation of "a greater scope and higher quality".
"This [upgrade] will further benefit us," she said.

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