HONG KONG, April 26 (Xinhua) -- Hong Kong and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to pursue a bilateral free trade agreement, in line with Hong Kong's goal of strengthening economic partnership with its 10 member states, Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So said on Friday.
Southeast Asia is one of the fastest growing economic regions in the world, and ASEAN member states are collectively Hong Kong's second largest partner in terms of goods trade, and fourth largest in services.
So told reporters in Beijing that the free trade agreement will enhance trade and investment flows between ASEAN and Hong Kong, generate new opportunities for businesses, and boost economic growth in the longer term.
The two sides are now discussing the preparatory work for formal negotiations. The agreement is expected to cover:
-- Elimination and/or reduction of tariffs and non-tariff barriers;
-- Preferential rules of origin;
-- Liberalization of trade in services;
-- Liberalization, promotion and protection of investment; and
-- A dispute settlement mechanism.
The Hong Kong government will conduct a public consultation to gauge Hong Kong businesses' interests in the ASEAN market, according to a statement released by the information services department of the city government.
Hong Kong originally put forward a request to ASEAN to join the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area. ASEAN counter-proposed engaging Hong Kong bilaterally for a Hong Kong-ASEAN agreement.
ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.