ASEAN member states, as southern neighbors of China, have been a “must pass” for Chinese products going abroad since ancient times; the route is widely known as the “voyage down the Southern Oceans”. Home to the largest population of overseas Chinese, ASEAN countries keep close political, economic and cultural ties with China, and since both parties have their own characteristics in terms of resources and industrial structures, they maintain a highly complementary relationship in economy and trade. The Asian financial crisis in 1997 accelerated the regional economic integration process; in the same year, China and ASEAN countries established a good-neighborly partnership of mutual trust orientated toward the 21st century; the “Early Harvest Program” initiated in 2004, ignited an new era of establishing a China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA); in the year when tariff-reduction program was launched, bilateral trade volume for the first time in history exceeded USD 100 billion, standing at USD105.87billion.
In January 2007, China and ASEAN signed the Agreement on Trade in Services, the first of its kind signed by China and other countries and regions under the free trade area framework. In the same year, ASEAN was lifted to the fourth largest trading partner of China from the fifth and represented China’s third largest import market. The development of CAFTA spearheaded China’s efforts to build free trade areas, serving as a successful example for China in its economic cooperation with other countries and regions.
According to the statistics of customs, the bilateral trade volume topped USD231.1 billion in 2008, a year-on-year increase of 13.9%, 3.2times of that of 2002 when China was admitted to the World Trade Organization. The trade with ASEAN accounts for 9% of China’s total import and export volume of that year, consolidating ASEAN’s position as China’s fourth largest trading partner.