ASEAN: THE WAY FORWARD
Asean and the Rise of Individual FTAsAll Asean countries have priorities when the national interest is at stake. This is not an issue for as long as such agreements at the regional or bilateral level are not in conflict with what Asean is striving to be in the future. We still have to provide Asean with a venue, on its own, to decide what is in the best interest of its people, whether through a bilateral agreement or regional partnership cooperation. But for the Asean countries to opt for a regional approach, more vigorous advocacy will be necessary and questions, doubts, skepticism must be addressed.
I do not think that Asean is particularly facing risks from this (individual members pursuing bilateral FTAs), since it has also negotiated Asean-wide FTAs with other important trade partners globally, which is also reducing trade and investment barriers for the whole of Asean with key partners such as China and India.
Bilateral and regional FTA’s which are open and consistent with WTO rules would promote trade and investments and should be supported. This is because it may take too long to achieve a deal at the Doha Round WTO negotiations. The business community will also benefit from the bilateral FTA deals.
I expect parallel socio economic development in Asean. Some countries move faster than others. Let the fastest win.
Bilateral FTA’s are fine as long as they are WTO consistent.
Asean countries have different identities, different histories, economies and political systems. They may have many very good reasons for seeking free trade deals individually.