China has proposed deeper co-operation on ports and streamlining maritime traffic with Asean, state media reports. Ju Chengzhi , director of international co-operation at the Transport Ministry, said an arrangement would speed up customs clearance and improve the safety of vessels in the Strait of Malacca. Transport bosses from the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China began a two-day meeting yesterday in Guilin on the development and management of ports along the region's coasts and rivers. Mr Ju's suggestion was well received at the summit, state media reported. He also vowed to build a free trade zone that included Asean's 10 members. His pledge came as Xinhua reported that the authorities in Shenzhen and Haiphong, a port next to the Beibu Gulf in northeastern Vietnam, had signed a memorandum of understanding on building an economic and trade co-operation zone in Haiphong. According to the agreement, Shenzhen will spend US$200 million to build an 800-hectare park, the first phase of the project, and seek to attract electronics and clothing manufacturers. Construction was expected to begin this year and take six years. More than 170 enterprises would eventually be drawn to the zone, with an expected investment of nearly US$5 billion, the report said. It is hoped the industrial zone will provide 30,000 to 50,000 jobs. At the China-Asean Port Development and Co-operation Forum held in Nanning in October last year, Transport Minister Li Shenglin said port and sea traffic was an important part of China-Asean co-operation. Asean-China trade surpassed US$200 billion last year for the first time, a 25.9 per cent rise over the previous year. Asean comprises the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar Gao Hucheng , a vice-minister of commerce, predicted that Asean would soon replace Japan as the mainland's third-biggest trading partner.