CHINA - China's "Belt and Road" initiative is expected to promote free trade agreement negotiations with countries along the routes, improving the flow of exports and imports, according to a former vice-commerce minister.
"FTA negotiations with three countries from Asia and Europe that are involved in the initiative are reaching the final stage, and we may see the results this year," said Wei Jianguo.
Wei, vice-chairman of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, a government think tank, spoke to China Daily in an exclusive interview.
He did not name the countries, but a Ministry of Commerce official confirmed earlier that China is working to set goals for free trade agreement negotiations along the "Belt and Road" routes.
China has proposed the "Belt and Road" initiative, which refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road that are aimed at promoting economic and cultural exchanges with neighbouring countries.
Experts say that free trade agreement negotiations with Sri Lanka and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council may achieve significant breakthroughs this year.
China is looking to form 20 free trade agreements, with 12 of them already signed and implemented, according to the Commerce Ministry.
The central government says that countries along the land and sea routes in the "Belt and Road" initiative account for 63 per cent of the world's population and 29 per cent of global GDP. Trade between these countries and China reached more than $1 trillion last year, 26 per cent of China's total trade value.
John Zhu, an economist at HSBC, wrote in a report, "It is clear that boosting domestic and international trade flows is a high priority for the 'Belt and Road' initiative."
China's commitment to globalisation remains strong, Zhu wrote, adding that the government recognises that many domestic regions have yet to fully leverage their advantages.
An action plan for the "Belt and Road" initiative specifies key roles for 18 provinces, but Ou Xiaoli, an official with the State Council's working group on the initiative, confirmed that no province will be excluded.
Wei also said that all provinces must ensure that local policies are in line with the national action plan.
"It will be a good opportunity to boost competitive industries in different provinces, which also requires accelerating innovation to drive domestic industrial upgrading," Wei said.
According to official statements, local governments are working on development plans to match the overall road map for the initiative, with Guangdong province expected to be the first to announce its policies soon.