SINGAPORE, Aug. 30 (Xinhua) -- Singapore's Foreign Minister K Shanmugam has said that all the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are supportive of enhancing the free trade agreement between China and the ten-nation bloc, local daily Lianhe Zaobao reported on Friday.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Special China- ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Beijing on Thursday, Shanmugam said the Philippines, which has a maritime dispute with China over some islands in the South China Sea, is "basically supportive" of enhancing the free trade agreement, the Chinese language daily said.
But the Philippines also mentioned the South China Sea issue at the meeting, and that China and other ASEAN countries mentioned the issue, too.
The Philippines has tried to bring its dispute to the multilateral forum involving China and the ASEAN, while China has said that the multilateral cooperation mechanisms should not be hijacked.
Shanmugam said that Singapore welcomed moves to upgrade the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area, as it would bring significant economic benefits to both China and the ASEAN.
He said that China is one of ASEAN's strongest strategic partners and that about 60 percent of the goods that are traded in this region are manufactured and exported to the United States, Europe and Japan.
"Twenty-two percent (of the goods) stays in this region. I think as we prosper, as we increase our trading relationship, as we increase our connectivity, that can go much higher ... for the benefit of China and ASEAN, and an enhanced free-trade agreement will help us achieve that," he said.
The upgraded version of the China-ASEAN FTA could include measures such as opening up of their skies and more infrastructural projects to enhance the connectivity between them, he added.
China and ASEAN are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the establishment of strategic partnership between them. The two sides agreed on their free trade agreement in 2002, with effect in 2010. The bilateral trade has expanded from 54.8 billion U.S. dollars in 2002 to 400.1 billion U.S. dollars in 2012, Lianhe Zaobao cited statistics as saying.
The ministers also reaffirmed their agreement at the ASEAN- China Post Ministerial Conference on June 30 to implement the Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea.
In this context, they reiterated their decision to commence consultations on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea at the senior officials' level at a meeting on the Implementation of the DOC in Suzhou, China on Sept. 14-15.