Sat, Nov 25, 2006 - Page 4 News List

China and Pakistan sign FTA

`EVERGREEN' TIES The two countries pledged to strengthen cooperation in defense, energy and the economy, boosting trade threefold within five years

AFP , ISLAMABAD

Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan, right, and visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing share a light moment in Islamabad yesterday. Chinese President Hu Jintao and his Pakistani counterpart Pervez Musharraf oversaw the signing of a landmark free trade deal yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and his Pakistani counterpart Pervez Musharraf oversaw the signing of a landmark free trade deal yesterday and vowed to take the allies' "evergreen" relationship to new heights.

The two countries also agreed to cooperate on airborne early warning radar planes and inked a slew of other agreements to boost their ties in the spheres of defense, energy and the economy.

Officials have said the trade agreement could triple bilateral trade to US$15 billion within five years.

"This serves the fundamental interests of our two peoples and is also conducive to the peace and development of our region," Hu told a news conference after hour-long talks with Musharraf.

"We want to work with Pakistan to raise our strategic ties to a new level," said Hu, the first Chinese leader to visit the Islamic republic for a decade.

Musharraf, whose country is keen to reinforce its 55-year-old ties with Beijing amid concern India and China are becoming increasingly close, said the "evergreen relationship of Pakistan and China will remain for all time."

The presidents watched their ministers of commerce ink the trade pact and other accords, including a five-year development program which Xinhua news agency said was the first of its kind for Beijing.

They also agreed to set up a joint investment company.

But while Hu said that Beijing would continue to cooperate with Pakistan's nuclear power industry, he did not announce any new deal.

Pakistani officials had earlier dismissed "speculative" reports that China would unveil a major new atomic agreement with Pakistan similar to one made between its arch-rival India and the US earlier this year.

Separately, Pakistan's Air Force said it had agreed with China to jointly develop aircraft equipped with long-range early warning radars.

"The same may be delivered to Pakistan in coming years," it said in a statement, without specifying a timeframe.

Beijing remains Islamabad's largest arms supplier and the two are jointly developing the JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft, with eight JF-17s xpected to be delivered to Pakistan next year.

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