A free-trade area sponsored by China that stretches across Southeast Asia, with a total GDP of $6 trillion and a population of 1.9 billion, is set to go into full operation next year, said a senior official of the Chinese Commerce Ministry. Ranked by population, the deal between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be the the world's biggest free-trade area. Work on creating the area has been under way since 2002.

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