The negotiations for the China-Maldives free trade agreement are in their last stage, announced the Maldives government on Thursday.
Economic minister Mohamed Saeed told reporters that Thursday marked one year since official talks commenced between the Maldives and China to establish free trade between the two nations. The minister reported that the government has met with over 2,000 private firms of China during this period, marking the greatest number of international companies for the government to enter talks with.
“We urge everyone to recognise and accept all the progress brought to the trade sector via [these negotiations],” said the minister during the contract signing to award management of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Loan Scheme to Bank of Maldives Ltd (BML).
The minister had previously stated that free trade between the two countries will allow local entrepreneurs more access to Chinese markets for their products, as well as export fish and fish products to China with duty exemption.
The Maldives and China have so far held three discussion sessions over the free trade agreement. China had also announced this year plans to research the advantages of entering into free trade with the archipelago.
This also marks the first time for the Maldives to enter into a free trade agreement with an individual country. Previously, the Maldives had entered into a regional agreement with all the SAARC countries with South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).
The Maldives has been greatly strengthening relations with China recently with several large economic projects currently underway with financial assistance and loans from the Asian giant. These projects include the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge linking capital Male and airport island Hulhule and the development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).
Hong Kong has also expressed interest in entering into free trade with the Maldives. The two countries are yet to proceed on this issue.