Cepa boost seen in Pan-delta concept Guangdong academics studying provincial Communist Party chief Zhang Dejiang's proposal for a Pan-Pearl River Delta economic zone say it could help inland provinces benefit from the Cepa free-trade pact. It could also form a free-trade area with the 10 Asean nations, one of the experts said. A bigger hinterland would also put the Pearl River Delta in a better position to compete with the mainland's other economic powerhouse, the Yangtze River Delta, they say. The zone envisaged would encompass Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau, the coastal provinces of Fujian and Hainan, southeastern Jiangxi, Yunnan in the southwest and the south-central provinces of Hunan, Guizhou and Sichuan. The concept has earned wide support, but its working title is a misnomer. Yunnan and Sichuan are a long way from the Pearl delta, nor does Fujian have anything to do with the Pearl river system. 'I prefer to call it the South China economic region,' said Zheng Tianxiang, of Zhongshan University's Centre for Pearl River Delta Research, who is among the experts conducting a feasibility study. Describing the idea as a way to get more out of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement between Hong Kong and the mainland, Professor Zheng said: 'Guangdong and Hong Kong have access to capital, technology, skilled labour and an international market. The hinterland has labour, agricultural, water, energy and tourism resources.' China last week signed a treaty of co-operation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. This opened the door to closer linkage with the single market that the bloc envisages forming by 2020, said Jiang Nianyun, the deputy director of the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences. He said: 'The Pearl River Delta or [even] the Greater Pearl River Delta are too small to be a partner to Asean. Since we can't make the whole of China a free-trade area, we are thinking in terms of a Pan-Pearl River Delta economic area.' The Greater Pearl River Delta, comprising Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong, has a population of some 46 million and annual GDP of $1.9 trillion. Asean has a population of 500 million and GDP of US$737 billion.