ASEAN's Bilateral Trade Deal Frenzy

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/27/2007 11:12:00 AM
In the absence of much progress at the Doha Round, free trade deals have moved from multilateral to bilateral fora. You can be sure that Jagdish Bhagwati would be mortified by what the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is doing right now with regard to pursuing bilateral trade deals with virtually all of Asia's regional powerhouses. ASEAN has just concluded a summit of economic ministers in Manila which also featured counterparts from China (Bo Xilai) and Japan (Akira Amari). As you would expect, ASEAN is keen on consolidating its competitive footing among the biggies. For instance, it has moved up its plans for an ASEAN Economic Community from 2020 to 2015 to improve its competitiveness in regional stakes.

Who's ASEAN aiming to sign bilateral deals with? For starters, try China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand. Channel News Asia brings us news of this veritable noodle bowl of trade deals. WTO, we hardly knew ye, or so it seems:
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will complete its free trade agreements with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand by 2013, an official said Sunday.

The announcement came after ASEAN economic ministers met with their counterparts from the six "dialogue partners" in Manila at the last day of a three-day economic conference.

ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong said a free trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea could be completed by 2008, China by 2010, India by 2011, Japan by 2012, and Australia and New Zealand "before 2012 ... although hopefully we can do it by 2009."

He put 2013 as the expected time for the completion of all the FTAs but acknowledged that "loose ends" involving issues such as trade in goods and services in South Korea remained.

"Essentially by 2013, all the free trade area agreements between ASEAN and the rest of our major trading partners should be completed and the FTAs should be in place," he said.

"This will tie in with our leaders' decision to have the ASEAN community established by 2015," he added.

ASEAN and Japan are expected to sign in November an agreement abolishing tariffs on 90 percent of ASEAN imports to Japan, but officials at the meeting said the gradual abolition of all tariffs with some ASEAN countries would take over a decade.

Ong said ASEAN is not closing the door to further FTAs with other countries or groupings but stressed such trade talks were a "heavy burden" on government negotiators who were already busy on pending FTAs.

He said that for the moment, ASEAN would instead focus on "finishing what we have on our table."

Ong said ASEAN had already "started exchanging views," with the European Union on an FTA accord but had not set any schedule. He also said a joint study was being made on a possible FTA with Pakistan.

Chinese minister of commerce Bo Xilai said that even though the FTA with China was not yet completed, China was already lowering tariffs on goods from ASEAN.

"Although the FTA agreement with China has not yet come to a full conclusion, both sides can already start to benefit from it," he said, adding that it was the services and investment issues that were still being discussed.

ASEAN, which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, is preparing to set up an integrated Southeast Asian Economic Community by 2015.