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Farming Without Borders

Pan Peibin, a farmer in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and an expert at growing sugar cane, has been employed by a Thailand-based sugar company as technological counselor, with a fairly good pay.

Pan's overseas work opportunity has been made possible thanks largely to an export policy on agricultural technology carried out in Guangxi.

The Guangxi government is currently offering technical lessons to local farmers and encouraging agricultural technology export to neighboring ASEAN countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, in a bid to contribute to regional food safety and ecological preservation.

Geologically close to ASEAN countries, Guangxi has taken a leading role in promoting agricultural cooperation in these nations.

For instance, a variety of improved rice launched by Zheng Hengshou, a renowned Chinese agricultural expert, so far covers more than 20 percent of the total land under rice farming in Vietnam.

China and ASEAN have made substantial progress in cooperation to develop new varieties of crops and farming technologies.

While a Chinese-aided agricultural technology center has begun construction in the Philippines, a model cooperative project of hybrid rice established jointly by China and Indonesia has played a significant role in increasing the latter's rice production.

In addition to technological aid, China has also strengthened investment in ASEAN's agricultural sector.

Guangxi State Farms Co, a state-owned company with 13 billion yuan in net assets, signed nine projects with ASEAN countries in May.

It plans to invest a further US$192 million in its investment projects in the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar.

Work on planting a 100,000-hectare farm of high quality sisal, invested by the company in Myanmar, has progressed substantially. So far, 112 million sisals have been planted, covering 267 hectares of farmland.

With a total population of about 530 million, ASEAN has higher per capita resources of farmland, forests, grassland and freshwater than China, said Zhang Mingpei, head of the agricultural department of Guangxi.

ASEAN is still in a preliminary stage in terms of land and ecological resources development and much untapped potential exists in these countries, Zhang pointed out.

In contrast, China's agriculture is severely hampered by shortage of natural resources. The Chinese government encourages investment in ASEAN, which will increase incomes of local farmers while helping ease tensions of Chinese food processors regarding raw material supply, he noted.

Experts said that after two years of establishing the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA), the two sides are shifting from competition to cooperation and witnessing a Chinese investment boom in the ASEAN agriculture sector.

CAFTA initiated a lower-tariff process in 2005. The tariff rate of food packaging machinery will be further reduced or canceled, indicating trade growth opportunities.

The ongoing fourth China-ASEAN Expo is expected to provide an ideal opportunity for Chinese investors to find ASEAN partners.

Applications from food processing and packaging machinery enterprises in the expo far exceed the number of booths available, organizers said.

In the third session held last year, 111 exhibitors booked 190 booths in the Food Packaging Machinery Pavilion, with US$23.37 million worth of contracts closed.

(China Daily October 29, 2007)

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