Fighting Irrelevance: An Economic Community “with ASEAN Characteristics”

Author/s (editor/s):

John Ravenhill

Publication year:


Publication type:

Working paper

Find this publication at:
IR Working Paper 2007/3 (PDF, 162KB)

John Ravenhill, ‘Fighting Irrelevance: An Economic Community “with ASEAN Characteristics”’, IR Working Paper 2007/3, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific and Asian Affairs, The Australian National University, July 2007.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) enters its fifth decade of economic cooperation in more favourable circumstances than those experienced at the time of its thirtieth anniversary. Paradoxically, and contrary to expectations at the time, the financial crises of 1997–98 may have strengthened ASEAN. The backlash against what was perceived as an unsympathetic Western response to East Asian difficulties put ASEAN at centrestage in new regional cooperative arrangements. Moreover, rivalry between China and Japan for regional leadership has led them both to seek to negotiate regional partnerships with ASEAN as a whole. ASEAN, however, faces new challenges—particularly from rapid economic growth in China and India, and from the proliferation of preferential trade agreements (PTAs) (including a large number involving individual ASEAN members). ASEAN has made only slow progress in economic cooperation. The complete removal of tariffs has fallen behind schedule and is not due to be realised until 2010. The private sector makes little use of ASEAN’s preferential arrangements because they afford little advantage over most-favoured-nation tariffs—certainly not sufficient to offset the costs of complying with paperwork, and the consequent delays experienced. ASEAN has made little progress on ‘deeper integration’ issues—the removal of ‘beyond border’ barriers to trade. Some of the bilateral PTAs that ASEAN countries have negotiated with extra-regional partners go further in removing barriers than ASEAN’s own arrangements. ASEAN members continue to eschew binding commitments within their own economic collaboration despite making them within the World Trade Organization and in some of their bilateral PTAs. Liberalisation under ASEAN’s auspices has not been sufficiently significant to encourage business groups to invest substantial resources in lobbying for deeper integration.

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