A cargo ship docks at Qinzhou Port in China-ASEAN Free Trade Area in Qinzhou, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, on July 11, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

Amid challenges brought by the epidemic, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the first time has become China”s top trading partner, opening up bright prospects as China and ASEAN are now each other’s largest trading partners, the Ministry of Commerce said on Sunday.

Li Chenggang, assistant minister of commerce, said at a news conference economies around the world are grappling with growing downward pressure and shrinking international trade due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Against this backdrop, China and ASEAN strived to minimize the influence of the epidemic and bucked global trends with good trade and economic cooperation.

Data from the Ministry of Commerce showed in the first eight months of this year, China-ASEAN trade volume reached 2.93 trillion yuan ($429.5 billion), up 7 percent on a year-on-year basis and accounting for 14.6 percent of China’s foreign trade.

In the first half of this year, China’s investment in ASEAN amounted to $6.23 billion, growing 53.1 percent on a yearly basis and taking up 76.7 percent of China’s investment in economies related to the Belt and Road Initiative. ASEAN’s paid-in investment in China surged by 5.9 percent year-on-year, according to the ministry.

“In addition to growing bilateral trade volume and dynamic investment cooperation, China and ASEAN had closer cooperation in digital economy, and made steady progress in regional economic cooperation,” Li said.

He noted China and ASEAN had delivered remarkable results in trade and economic cooperation, in which the China-ASEAN Expo has played a vital role. Since it was first held 16 years ago, the expo has built a significant platform for bilateral trade and economic cooperation, ensured unimpeded access to trade and investment, boosted international cooperation in production capacity and encouraged Chinese companies to go to Southeast Asia.

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The 17th China-ASEAN Expo, which is to be held from Nov 27 to Nov 30 in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, will feature both physical exhibitions and “Cloud CAEXPO”. The 17th China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit will be held at the same time.

Zhou Hongbo, vice-governor of Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, said: “This year marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the China ASEAN Free Trade Zone. The CAEXPO, over the past 16 years, has drawn together 832,000 exhibitors and trade visitors and concluded a lot of cooperation projects related to trade in goods and services, investment, international production capacity and cross-border industrial parks.”

According to Zhou, to mitigate the influence of COVID-19 this year’s expo and summit will be offered with an online version, so those who are outside the Chinese mainland are able to join.

In addition, in partnership with Alibaba Group an online CAEXPO will be launched to provide a variety of services such as showrooms, business talks via video link and livestreaming, among others, to exhibitors and trade visitors all year round.

Zhang Shaogang, deputy director of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, said in the future CCPIT will continue to build more effective platforms for the industrial and commercial circles of China and ASEAN and explore more fields for cooperation, especially in the fields of new energy, new infrastructure, digital economy and intelligent manufacturing.

Via China Daily