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China's Deputy Minister of Commerce, Qian Keming, has proposed that the member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – should establish a free trade agreement (FTA).
At the SCO's economic forum in Beijing on October 20, he noted that such an FTA would enhance trade and economic cooperation between SCO members. However, while there was discussion on the topic at the forum, no decision was taken on whether to set up a study group on such a trade treaty.
The six-member grouping may soon be joined by India or Pakistan, and possibly Iran. Other observers/dialogue partners are Afghanistan, Belarus, Mongolia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey.
China's suggestion of a SCO regional FTA is seen as a further attempt to pursue its stated strategy of establishing a wider network of trade agreements. The State Council's longer-term goal is to establish an FTA network that covers all the countries and regions on the old Silk Road from China to Europe and China to Africa.
This year, China is seeking to complete the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – comprising Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam – and its six FTA partners – China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand.
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