ASEAN Charter: Paving the Way for a Single Market

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 12/15/2008 04:40:00 PM
The subprime contagion has buried a very important event that may, in time, prove as momentous for persons in Southeast Asia--half a billion strong--as it was for Europeans in 1957 with the creation of the European Economic Community. On this day, 15 December 2008, the ASEAN Charter comes into effect. It was supposed to be signed at a gathering of member countries in Thailand, but recent events there waylaid proceedings. (You can read the Charter in its entirety here.) Just as the three pillars of what eventually came to be known as the EU involve economics, security, and policing, the ASEAN has three near-counterparts: the ASEAN Economic Community, the ASEAN Political-Security Community, and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. And, just as the EU has rotating heads among member countries, so too will ASEAN. Importantly for a blog discussing international political economy, ASEAN is (still) aiming for a single common market by 2015. The Associated Press has more on this angle:
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations moved to forge an EU-style community Monday, signing a charter that makes the bloc a legal entity for the first time and could pave the way for creating a single market within seven years.

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said the new charter, which was ratified by foreign ministers, accords a legal identity to the regional grouping for international negotiations and transactions. Though largely without enforcement action, it also sets out a common set of rules for trade, investment, environment and other fields.

Up until now, the 10-nation organization has been little more than a talk shop, forging agreements through consensus and steering away from confrontation.

One of the key goals of the charter, initially drafted one year ago, is to establish a single market by 2015 for the vast and diverse region of 500 million people, though the deepening global financial crisis and political instability in several member states could derail those plans. ASEAN already has been developing a free-trade zone since the 1990s, but progress has been spotty.
The AP article is right in pointing out that ASEAN has long talked about becoming an EU-like assemblage to little effect. My hope is that the Charter serves as a commitment device that inspires countries in the region to work towards a single market. I've had very little truck with Eurosceptics precisely because creating EU-like entities in different parts of the globe has occupied the dreams and aspirations of so many other people and nations. At a time of recurrent financial crises, who doesn't want a strong single currency or strong intra-regional trading links that can help sustain economic activity when Western export markets go sour? Make no mistake: for all its foibles, the EU is a model to follow, not an arrangement to avoid. Witness the line of Eastern European countries now knocking on Brussel's door.

The significance of this day for Southeast Asia will be better assessed long after this blog has become a cyber-memory. These arrangements take time to consummate. Never let it be said though that the liberal idea of countries forging past historical grievances is an idea cherished only by Westerners.