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1 College of Business and Economics CHED Center of Development in Business and Management Education ASEAN Free Trade Area: Lessons learned and the challenges ahead SERIES Myrna S. Austria, Ph. D. De La Salle University Manila, Philippines The CBERD Working Paper Series constitutes studies that are preliminary and subject to further revisions. They are being circulated in a limited number of copies only for purposes of soliciting comments and suggestions for further refinements. The studies under the Series are unedited and unreviewed. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Center. Not for quotation without permission from the author(s) and the Center. For comments, suggestions or further inquiries please contact: Center for Business and Economics Research and Development (CBERD) 2 nd Floor, Medrano Hall, La Salle Bldg., 2401 Taft Avenue, Manila, Philippines Tel Nos: (632) and (632) loc. 149; Fax No: (632) Or visit our website at

2 About the Author Dr. Myrna S. Austria is an associate professor at the Economics Department of De La Salle University Manila. She earned her Masters in Economics of Development and Doctor of Philosophy in Economics at The Australian National University. Currently the Director of the Center for Business and Economics Research and Development, Dr. Austria is also a Research Fellow at the Philippine Institute for Developmental Studies (PIDS) and a member of the Executive Committee of the APEC International Assessment Network. The former Director of the Philippine APEC Study Center Network (PASCN), she was also involved in economic planning with the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA). Her areas of specialization include: trade, investment and industrial policy, development economics, international trade, competition policy, and regional cooperation. ASEAN Free Trade 2

3 Table of contents 1. Introduction 5 2. AFTA: Its beginning and accomplishments 6 3. What lessons can be drawn from the AFTA? The challenges ahead Summary and conclusions 19 List of tables 1. Average CEPT rates by country (percent) 8 2. Average CEPT rates by product, ASEAN, (percent) 9 3. Percentage distribution of tariff lines, 1993 & 2003 CEPT package (percent) Tariff structure based on the 2002 CEPT package (percent) Share of intra-asean trade to total trade of the region, (percent) Annual change in intra-regional and extra-regional exports (percent) Annual change in intra-regional and extra-regional imports (percent) Intra-industry trade index for manufactures, ASEAN-6, 1990 and List of figures 1. Intra-ASEAN trade, (US$ billion) 10 ASEAN Free Trade 3

4 Abstract Prior to the 1990s, it was inconceivable to talk about economic integration, much less a free trade area, in Southeast Asia. This is because most of the countries in the region have economic structures that are competitive rather than complementary. However, ten years after the ASEAN Free Trade (AFTA) was established in 1992, its original signatories (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) have constituted an effective free trade area. In 2002, almost 97 percent of the tariff lines of these countries are already under the 0-5 percent rate, which was the original goal of the AFTA. What lessons can be drawn from the AFTA experience? This paper addresses this issue by examining the factors that contributed to the success of the AFTA. Also discussed are the challenges confronting the ASEAN, including the unfinished agenda of the AFTA, the challenge of deeper economic integration, and the rising regionalism in East Asia. ASEAN Free Trade 4

5 ASEAN Free Trade Area: Lessons learned and the challenges ahead 1 Myrna S. Austria 2 De La Salle University - Manila 1. Introduction Prior to the 1990s, it was inconceivable to talk about economic integration, much less a free trade area, in Southeast Asia. This stems from the fact that most countries in the region have economic structures that are competitive rather than complementary. With the exception of Singapore, the countries have similar resource endowments and levels of technological development that result in the production and export of similar primary and labor-intensive products. These countries are also heavily dependent on developed countries, particularly the USA, Europe and Japan, for their export markets and sources of investment and technology. These factors were perceived to make economic integration in the region difficult, if not impossible. Even the ASEAN leaders themselves avoided the term integration and preferred the term cooperation during their official discussions and meetings until the late 1980s. It was a major political decision then when the leaders finally decided to establish the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) in Initial reactions have been pessimistic and skeptical. Ten years later, the AFTA has reached its initial target. The original signatories to the AFTA agreement (Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, or the ASEAN-6) have lowered their tariffs to 0-5 percent in about 96 percent of their tariff lines, in accordance with the agreed schedule. The year 2002 therefore marked a big milestone for the AFTA and in ASEAN s history (Severino 2002). What lessons can be drawn from the AFTA experience? This paper will attempt to address this issue by examining the factors that contributed to the success of the AFTA, as well as, identify the issues and challenges confronting it. The paper is organized as follows. A brief account of the AFTA s beginnings and an analysis of its accomplishments are presented in the next section. It is followed by a discussion of the lessons that can be drawn from the AFTA experience. Analysis of the challenges confronting the AFTA, including its unfinished agenda, the challenge of 1 Paper presented during the Conference of the ASEAN-Korea Academic Exchange Program, February 20-21, 2003, University of the Philippines, Quezon City. 2 Associate Professor, Economics Department; and Director, Center for Business and Economics Research and Development, De La Salle University. The author would like to acknowledge the research assistance provided by Mr. Jet Mojica. ASEAN Free Trade 5

6 deeper economic integration and the rising regionalism in East Asia are covered in the last section. 2. The AFTA: Its beginning and accomplishments The AFTA has grown out of the ASEAN, an association that was established in Political instability and regional security issues in the region were the primary driving forces behind the ASEAN, given the mounting tensions arising from territorial disputes between some of the member nations then, the external communist threats following the Vietnam war, as well as the domestic communist insurgency problems in several of the member nations. While economic cooperation was one of the declared objectives of ASEAN, it never became part of the ASEAN s agenda until the formation of the ASEAN Preferential Trading Area (PTA) in 1977, the Industrial Complementation Program in 1983, and the Industrial Joint Ventures in In has been argued that in the early years of the ASEAN, much of the attraction of economic cooperation was to cover for political cooperation (Naya 1997). The PTA was the ASEAN s first attempt at economic integration, where margin of preferences were granted to imports among the ASEAN members. Other measures under the PTA include long-term quantity contracts, preferential terms for the financing of imports, preferential procurement by government agencies, and the liberalization of non-tariff barriers in intra-regional trade. The PTA, however, did not promote intra- ASEAN trade, as the margin of preferences was too small to provide ASEAN importers a strong competitive edge over non-asean importers. There were also implementation problems like the inclusion of irrelevant or non-traded products, cumbersome product by product negotiations, long exclusion list comprising of products of export interest to member nations, non-automatic acceptance of product based on proof of origin and ASEAN content of the product, etc. (Pangestu, Soesastro and Ahmad 1992; Chia 2000). In short, PTA failed. There were efforts to overcome these but such efforts were also unsuccessful because national interests (i.e. solving domestic problems) have taken precedence over regional interests. Starting the late 1980s, however, the goal of economic integration took center stage, leading to the establishment of the AFTA in A combination of both internal and external factors has helped bring about the decision to establish the AFTA. Internally, the success of the ASEAN in establishing political stability and security in the region, prior to the formation of the AFTA, has been greatly acknowledged to be instrumental for individual ASEAN member countries to pursue their economic development (Pangestu et. al. 1992; Chia 2000) Although political-security issues continue to become an important part of the ASEAN agenda, they became less dominating. Likewise, since the mid-1980s, the original ASEAN-5 members (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore) undertook extensive domestic policy reforms through trade liberalization and export promotion. The shift in economic policy resulted in domestic efficiency, improved competitiveness and high growth rates. ASEAN Free Trade 6

7 Eventually, the success of the ASEAN-5 in domestic policy reforms made the idea of regional integration more acceptable. Externally, the rise of regional trading arrangements in North America and Europe, which are the major exports markets and sources of FDI of the ASEAN, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the associated trade and investment diversion that would follow threatened the outward looking development strategies that the ASEAN countries had just embraced (Plummer 1998). Furthermore, the end of the Cold War has brought forth many new competitors to the ASEAN for the increasingly scarce FDI, particularly China, South Asia and Latin America. These factors have made clear the need to increase the ASEAN s competitiveness and protect its interests. The primary goal of the AFTA is to increase the ASEAN s competitive edge as a production base for the world market (ASEAN Secretariat 1993). The mechanism for achieving this is the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT), where intra-regional tariffs will be reduced to 0 to 5 percent within a 15-year period beginning in All tariff lines were included, except for the following: (i) General Exception List (GEL) covering products that were permanently excluded for the protection of national security, public morals, human, animal or plant life and health, and articles of artistic, historic or archaelogical value; (ii) Temporary Exclusion List (TEL) covering products scheduled to be phased into the CEPT tariff reduction schedule within a given time frame; and the (iii) Sensitive List (SL) covering agricultural products (Chapters 1-24 of the Harmonized System Code (HS). The goal is to establish a free trade, with members of the ASEAN giving a common preferential tariff to each other while at the same time, giving each member a free hand on the tariff rate they will grant to non-members. The PTA is granted only by the nominating country and there is no reciprocity. On the other hand, in a CEPT, there is reciprocity in that once the good is accepted under the it, all countries must give the preferential tariff (Soesastro 2002). Over the years, however, the AFTA has taken significant leaps toward the achievement of its goal. First, the deadline has been continuously accelerated. In 1995, the deadline was moved forward from the original date of 2008 to 2003; and then in 1998, to 2002 (with later implementation dates for its newer members: Vietnam, Burma, Myanmar and Cambodia. Second, the coverage of the AFTA has been widened to include products that were originally excluded (e.g. unprocessed agricultural products). Third, the AFTA has also widened its scope beyond the CEPT scheme by including other measures to complement and supplement the removal of tariffs and other border barriers. These initiatives include harmonization of standards, reciprocal recognition of tests and certification of products, and the liberalization of investment and recently, of services. Finally, the AFTA s original goal of 0-5 percent ending tariff rates was deepened by targeting a zero-ending tariff rates on all products by 2010 for the original six members, ahead of the original schedule of 2015; and by 2015 for the new four members, ahead of the original date of 2018 (ASEAN Secretariat 2000). For a span of ten years, the average CEPT rates of the original the AFTA signatories (i.e. ASEAN-6) declined from percent in 1993 to 2.89 percent in 2002 ASEAN Free Trade 7

8 (Table 1). The rates are expected to decrease further to 2.39 percent in However, the average is a little higher (3.33 percent in 2003) if the new members are included, (i.e. ASEAN-10). On average, the AFTA was actually ahead of schedule as shown by the lower than 5 percent CEPT rate as early as 1999 for the ASEAN-6 and 2000 for the ASEAN-10. In terms of products, tariff rates are highest (above 3%) in plastics, wood and wood products, textiles and apparels, foot ware, arms and miscellaneous (Table 2). Table 1. Average CEPT rates by country (percent) Country Brunei D Indonesia Malaysia Philippines Singapore Thailand ASEAN Cambodia Lao PDR Myanmar Vietnam CLMV ASEAN Source: ASEAN Secretariat. In terms of country performance, Singapore is the exception because of its open door policy (zero tariff). Of the original signatories, the Philippines and Thailand have the highest CEPT rates, although well within the 0-5 percent target (4.13% and 4.97%, respectively in 2002) (Table 1). On the other hand, among the new members, only Myanmar has an average CEPT rate below 5 percent. As of 2002, about 98.4 percent of the tariff lines of the ASEAN-6 have been included in the CEPT scheme, or 10 percentage points more than the number of tariff lines included in 1993 (Table 3). In terms of tariff structure, about percent of the tariff lines of the ASEAN-6 are already under the 0-5 percent tariff rate as of 2002 (Table 4). The new members (ASEAN-4), however, still have a lot of work to do as more than 44 percent of their tariff lines still have higher than 5 percent tariff rate. ASEAN Free Trade 8

9 Table 2. Average CEPT rates by product, ASEAN, (percent) Products Live Animals Vegetable Products Fats & Oils Prepared Food Stuff Mineral Product Chemical Plastics Hides & Leathers Wood & Wood Articles Pulp & Paper Textiles & Apparel Foot Ware Cement & Ceramics Gems Base Metal Machinery Vehicles Optical Inst Arms Miscellaneous Antique Source: ASEAN Secretariat Website. The lowering of tariffs to minimal levels was accompanied by a massive expansion of intra-regional trade. Intra-ASEAN exports increased from $31.62 billion in 1991 to $92.39 billion in 2000, representing almost 20 percent and 23 percent, respectively, of ASEAN s total exports during the period (Figure 1). On the other hand, intra-asean imports went up from $28.89 billion in 1991 to $74.77 billion in 2000, or 16.3 percent and 21.8 percent, respectively, of ASEAN s total imports during the same period. Despite the increase, however, critics are quick to argue that the AFTA s effect on intra-asean trade is small and hence, conclude that the region is not that important to the economy of its members. ASEAN Free Trade 9

10 Figure 1. Intra-ASEAN trade, (US$ billion). Source: NAPES Table 3. Percentage distribution of tariff lines, 1993 & 2003 CEPT package (percent) Inclusion List Temporary Exclusion List General Exception List Sensitive List Country Total 1993 Brunei Darussalam Indonesia Malaysia Philippines Singapore Thailand ASEAN Brunei Darussalam Indonesia Malaysia Philippines Singapore Thailand ASEAN Cambodia Lao PDR Myanmar Vietnam New members ASEAN Source: ASEAN Secretariat; AFTA Reader, ASEAN Free Trade 10

11 However, one needs to compare the AFTA with other regional trading arrangements in order to have a proper perspective on the issue. As shown in Table 5, the AFTA in fact, generated a higher intra-regional trade among its members than Andean, EFTA or even CER did to their members in the 1990s 3. In addition, intra- ASEAN trade grew much faster than trade within NAFTA, EU, EFTA, or CER, over the same period as shown in Table 6 and Table 7. The same tables show that the ASEAN achieved a rapid growth in its extra-regional trade alongside intra-asean trade. Such could only be the product of the outward-oriented policies of its members. Thus, what is often considered a failure of the AFTA can in fact be regarded as its great achievement. The increasing integration of the region during the 1990s is also supported by the increasing intra-industry trade index (IIT) for manufactures (Table 8). The index measures the amount of trade within a commodity. An increasing index indicates deepening integration since it reflects an increase in the division of labor combined with a reduction in transaction costs. The increase in the index between 1990 and 1999 was highest between Indonesia and Malaysia, Malaysia and Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, Philippines and Singapore, Philippines and Thailand, Thailand and Brunei and Thailand and Indonesia (Table 8). Some studies have pointed out that the increase in intra-asean trade is actually not due to the AFTA but rather to the economic dynamism of the region (Chia 2000; Pangestu et. al. 1992). While this argument is correct, the next section of the paper argues that the AFTA reinforced the dynamism of the region. Table 4. Tariff structure based on the 2002 CEPT package (percent) Country Number of Tariff Lines Percentage 0-5% > 5% Total 0-5% > 5% Total Brunei Darussalam 6, , Indonesia 7, , Malaysia 9, , Philippines 5, , Singapore 5,859-5, Thailand 8, , ASEAN-6 42,597 1,562 44, Cambodia 238 2,877 3, Lao PDR 1, , Myanmar 2, , Vietnam 3,623 1,938 5, New Members 8,008 6,348 14, All ASEAN 50,605 7,910 58, Source: ASEAN Secretariat. 3 The Andean Community includes Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. The European Free Trade Area (EFTA) includes Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland. The Closer Economic Relations (CER) includes New Zealand and Australia. ASEAN Free Trade 11

12 3. What lessons can be drawn from the AFTA? The AFTA is considered not only an important achievement of the ASEAN regional cooperation but also a significant development in the international trading system. Other regional trading arrangements among developing countries (similar to the ASEAN), particularly those in Latin America and Africa in the 1960s, have failed (Petri 1997; Naya and Plummer 1997). What then can we learn from the AFTA? This section of the paper discusses five important factors that can be considered significant ingredients to the attainment of the AFTA s goal. Domestic policy environment. Prior to the establishment of the AFTA in 1992, the ASEAN-5 undertook extensive domestic policy reforms by opening up their economies through trade liberalization. This outward-looking orientation of the member economies was an important ingredient to the success of the AFTA. To be able to participate in regional economic integration and face regional competition, a country must have domestic industries that are efficient and competitive. This is where the unilateral policy reforms of the ASEAN members made a crucial role. By fostering domestic efficiency where resources are allocated according to a country s comparative advantage, the unilateral liberalization policies prepared the ASEAN members for regional as well as global competition Table 5. Share of Intra-ASEAN trade to total trade of the region, (percent) Year AFTA Mercosur Andean EFTA CER NAFTA EU Exports Imports ASEAN Free Trade 12

13 Continued Table 5. Share of Intra-ASEAN trade to total trade of the region, (percent) Year AFTA Mercosur Andean EFTA CER NAFTA EU Total Trade Source: Calculated by the author based on PC-TAS database, Table 6. Annual change in intra-regional and extra-regional exports (percent) RTAs Intra-regional exports AFTA Andean EFTA CER NAFTA EU Extra-regional exports AFTA Andean EFTA CER NAFTA EU Source: Calculated by the author based on PC-TAS database, ASEAN Free Trade 13

14 Table 7. Annual change in intra-regional and extra-regional imports (percent) RTAs Intra-regional imports AFTA Andean EFTA CER NAFTA EU Extra-regional imports AFTA Andean EFTA CER NAFTA EU Source: Calculated by the author based on PC-TAS database, Table 8. Intra-industry trade index for manufactures, ASEAN-6, 1990 and Reporter/Partner Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Philippines Singapore Thailand 1990 Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Philippines Singapore Thailand Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Philippines Singapore Thailand Source: NAPES ASEAN Free Trade 14

15 This openness of market continues even with the AFTA. The AFTA was founded on the principle of open regionalism, where tariff cuts are extended to partners outside of the region. In other words, the CEPT scheme allows not only intra-asean liberalization but also liberalization on a most-favored-nation (MFN) basis. The external orientation of the AFTA thus minimizes the potential trade diversion effects, where an inefficient firm inside the regional trading arrangement (RTA) is able to gain market access because of the preferential agreement, at the expense of an efficient firm from a non-member of the agreement. In addition, while the CEPT scheme seeks to establish a common effective preferential tariff within the region, it does not raise trade barriers against non-asean economies and hence, it is consistent with the GATT s principles. This is unlike the arrangements in Latin America in the 1960s where regional economic cooperation was used as a means to support their inward-looking import substitution paradigms (Naya and Plummer 1997). The experience of these countries shows that inward-looking trading blocs have always been either short-lived or never worked (Plummer 1998). Therefore, the experience of the AFTA shows that a free trade area only makes sense in a market environment. The AFTA is compatible and consistent with the broader market-oriented policies of each individual ASEAN members. The AFTA therefore only added an external dimension to the competition going in the domestic markets, without changing the fundamental rules of the game. Complementary vs substitutability argument. It is often argued that the trade creation effect of the AFTA is small because of the ASEAN s similar economic structures. However, it is exactly this similarity in their structures that worked to the advantage of the ASEAN in their efforts towards regional economic integration. Since the economies produce the same type of products, this injects a new competitive spirit and dynamism into the regional economy, with each member finding its own competitive niche. This generates greater opportunities for intra-industrial trade and specialization. Likewise, integration can be achieved faster as factors of production move faster within sectors than between sectors. This is precisely what happened when the ASEAN region became the production base for the global production of multinational companies (MNCs) in the 1990s. The rapid development of transportation and information and communication technology facilitated the production of different components of a final product in different countries. Such developments gave birth to a new trend in the international trading system in the 1990s, i.e. intra-industry trade. With the emergence of other competing locations for this type of foreign direct investment (FDI), the AFTA was just the right policy - it increased the attractiveness of the region to this type of FDI. By lowering, if not eliminating, barriers to trade and investment among the members, the AFTA facilitated the division of sophisticated production process of the MNCs, with locations in the ASEAN countries. The AFTA therefore created an environment in which the MNCs are freer to choose their cross-border bases and conduct their economic activities; thus allowing them to exploit factor price differences within the region. ASEAN Free Trade 15

16 In the end, the AFTA promoted the collective economic interests of the ASEAN by increasing the international competitiveness of the region in a number of industries that are of significance to the ASEAN economies (Intal 1997). Framework of the AFTA. Apart from the open regionalism principle, there are other aspects of the AFTA that contributed to its success. First, the free trade area as a form of economic integration (where each member is free to set its own tariff for nonmembers), works best for the ASEAN, as the countries have a deep commitment to preserving the sanctity of their national sovereignty. Second is the gradual approach of expanding the scope of the AFTA. During its early years, the AFTA was often criticized for its limited scope. The AFTA initially covered just manufactured goods and processed agriculture; and gradually expanded to cover more products, especially those considered to be sensitive, as the economic integration progressed. In hindsight, the initial exclusion of the agriculture sector was a realistic level of ambition that served the cause of most of the ASEAN countries, given the differences in their level of economic development. Including the agriculture sector at the outset could have definitely caused tensions among the members and could have led to the collapse of the integration. The lesson here is that in any integration scheme, it is best to start with what is workable and feasible among the members, and proceed with the more difficult and sensitive areas as issues are addressed along the integration process. Third is the approach of phasing in the tariff reduction of products by categories. The modus of having different tariff reduction schedules for different products (classified as IL, GEL, TEL, and SL) allowed flexibility in dealing with difficult and sensitive sectors (which reflects the differences in the level of economic development of the ASEAN members). The process allowed products and sectors that are not accustomed to market-driven competition to be exposed first to domestic competition before being included into the regional integration scheme. Finally, the AFTA looked beyond tariff reductions and elimination of other border barriers. The CEPT came in a package together with other measures, called the AFTA- Plus. Such measures include harmonization of standards, reciprocal recognition of tests and certification of products, customs procedures, competition policy, and liberalization of investment and services. One significant achievement of the AFTA early this year (2003) was the acceleration of the liberalization of the investment regimes of some of the ASEAN members. Brunei, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines and Thailand agreed to phase out their temporary exclusion list in the manufacturing sector 4. This means that any ASEAN investor can now invest in these countries and enjoy the national treatment in the manufacturing sector, including in those areas that were previously excluded. The 4 Singapore and Malaysia do not have temporary exclusion list. ASEAN Free Trade 16

17 temporary exclusion list and also the sensitive list were supposed to be phased out by 2010 for ASEAN investors and by 2020 for non-asean investors. In general, the AFTA-Plus measures increased the competitive edge of the ASEAN. However, much work needs to be done along these areas. Political will and commitment. The political commitment during the PTA regime was weak. It was a different case, however, during the AFTA regime. The strong political commitment of the ASEAN Leaders to the AFTA cannot be underestimated as one of the success factors of the AFTA. Experience shows that economic forces will only begin to work once economic players see a strong political commitment to the initiative. With commitment comes compliance. The setting up of the deadline for the AFTA sent a clear signal to the business community that the Leaders are committed. Thus, the business community took the AFTA seriously and incorporated it in their longterm strategies. The strong political commitment is clearly manifested when the ASEAN Leaders accelerated the deadline of the AFTA, not only once but twice. The second one was significant because it was made during the financial crisis of The response of not backtracking on the AFTA, as many had predicted, showed to the outside world that ASEAN was not slowing down on its intra-regional liberalization commitments, but was even bent on maintaining its commitments to regional economic integration (Austria and Avila 2001). The AFTA agreement worked both ways. On the one hand, it helped national government deal with vested interests in their countries against the AFTA. On the other hand, it helped locked in the trade liberalization process going in the individual ASEAN members. This facilitative character of the AFTA was particularly important during the crisis because it prevented domestic policy reversals. The ASEAN Way. The decision-making process in the ASEAN is guided by the principle of consensus. This principle is the hallmark of the ASEAN process, the practice having guided and sustained cooperation in the region. The ASEAN Way, as it is often called, involves non-confrontational attitude, a genuine willingness to see the points of view of others, a conscious refrain from exerting influence or coercion over other member states, and a willingness to be patient and persevere in reaching consensus (Akaha 1999:11). The ASEAN Way has often been criticized since the process is slow and time-consuming, producing decisions that are neither swift nor drastic. But this goslow approach was necessary during the formative years of the AFTA. To a large extent, the principle reflects the conventions and customs prevailing among the member states. Considering the diversity among the members, the approach has proved useful in solving differences, harmonizing divergent interests, and managing conflicts among member states (Soesastro 2002:5). During the past few years, however, there is a general recognition that the consensus-based decision making process has become a weakness that the ASEAN ASEAN Free Trade 17

18 should address. This is best illustrated by the slow and indecisive reaction of the ASEAN to the crisis of Thus, the decision last year of the ASEAN Economic Ministers to adopt the 10-X principle in the liberalization of services, investment, e- ASEAN, and mutual recognition agreement (MRA) is a most welcome development. Under the principle, two or more countries can move ahead with services liberalization, and the others can join in a later date when they are ready. 4. The challenges ahead Great challenges continue to confront the AFTA (and the ASEAN in general), given the many developments occurring not only in the region but also around the globe. This means that the AFTA has more work to do if it wants to sustain, if not strengthen, the competitiveness of the region. This section discusses three challenges facing today. The unfinished agenda. Tariffs on sensitive agricultural products have yet to fall to 0-5 percent. The delay in the tariff reduction for automobiles continues to be an issue raised against the AFTA. Likewise, the substantive work in the areas of investment and services is just starting to pick up. While liberalization in investment has been accelerated last year, the current program under the ASEAN Investment Area (AIA) includes only manufacturing. The coverage of the program should be extended to the other sectors like services, agriculture, fishery and mining. On the other hand, the liberalization of services has not kept pace with the liberalization efforts on goods and investment. Since services (transportation, power, telecommunication, banking, etc.) are also inputs to the production of industries, their inefficiency weakens the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector and hence, can be costly to each member economy as a whole. In short, the efficiency of the services sector is crucial to the efficiency of the manufacturing sector. Therefore, unless the services sector is competitive, the manufacturing sector cannot be internationally competitive. Of course, the goal of zero tariffs by 2010/2015 is one big task ahead for all the member economies. A more fundamental issue for the AFTA at this stage is its possible distributive effects among its members. There is no guarantee that the costs and benefits of the AFTA will be equally distributed among them. There is the possibility of one member sacrificing rather than benefiting from the integration. The probability could be large if one looks at the stark differences between the democratic prosperous original members versus the partly socialist and poor new members. This is one agenda that the ASEAN should seriously consider because it could not only hamper economic integration and delay the AFTA but could put into question the success of the AFTA as a whole. Ultimately, the AFTA will be judged on the economic prosperity it will bring not only to some but to all ASEAN members. ASEAN Free Trade 18

19 The challenge of deeper economic integration. The rapid emergence of China as an economic power presents and the growing attraction of India to foreign investments are huge threats to the ASEAN. The high economic growth of China is disruptive to some sectors in the ASEAN, especially in the labor-intensive industries. The comparative advantage of ASEAN members is being depleted by rising wages and costs. The current industrial structure shifts the balance to China and India. The ASEAN therefore needs to seriously consider how to strategize its position as an economically integrated region so as to make it an attractive alternative to China and India. This may call for the broadening and deepening of economic integration beyond the AFTA. Singapore has raised the idea of an ASEAN Economic Community by the AFTA and the many other initiatives in the ASEAN economic cooperation are important elements towards that direction but concrete steps need to be defined. The logical direction would either be a customs union (where member countries will have the same external tariffs), a common market (where in addition to customs union, there is free mobility of labor and capital), or economic union (where in addition to common market, there is harmonization of fiscal and monetary policies). But the choice would largely depend on the existing realities of ASEAN regionalism as a whole. Either option would require each member to surrender its sovereignty in the policy areas involved to an ASEAN governing body. The rising regionalism in East Asia. East Asia has been caught with regionalism in recent years. There has been a proliferation of bilateral and regional trading arrangement initiatives in the region and the ASEAN has been at the center stage in a number of these initiatives (Austria 2002). There is the ASEAN-Plus Three linking the ASEAN-10 and China, South Korea and Japan. Born out of the financial crisis in , it started as a cooperation in international finance driven by the need to avoid future currency within the region. In September 2002, the ASEAN signed an agreement with Australia and New Zealand to establish the AFTA-CER Closer Economic Partnership. In November 2002, the ASEAN and China signed a comprehensive framework to establish the ASEAN- China Free Trade Area by Also in November 2002, the ASEAN and Japan agreed to develop the framework for the ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership, including the possibility of a free trade area. Also, a number of individual ASEAN members are pursuing bilateral agreements with a number of these dialog partners. Most importantly, there is a strong perception that all these initiatives will lead to an East Asian Free Trade Area. In the light of these fast emerging developments in the region, it is imperative for the ASEAN as a group to proceed and respond to the rising regionalism in a clear and consistent fashion so as to maximize the benefits it could get for its membership and people arising from any future agreement. It is clear from the earlier agreements mentioned above that the ASEAN is proceeding in an ad hoc approach, without the guidance of a single overall framework. This is also true even for the individual members who are pursuing bilateral trade agreements. The absence of a common ASEAN Free Trade 19

20 framework could be very dangerous for the ASEAN as the ad hoc approach could lead to a series of agreements that are very different from each other. This could give rise to the spaghetti bowl effects, where each agreement will have different scope and tariff reduction schedules, different rules of origin, etc. Eventually, this will make cost of doing business in the region more expensive. But more importantly, having agreements that are very different from each other would make it difficult for the ASEAN to manage its external relations in East Asia. The ASEAN should therefore reconsider its current ad hoc approach. The many years of cooperation in the ASEAN and its success as a regional cooperation has given it the strength and leverage to engage more deeply to its neighbors (like China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand) and in international fora. The ASEAN should therefore make use of this advantage in designing and negotiating for new regional trading arrangement. 5. Summary and Conclusions The AFTA has reached its initial target. The ASEAN-6 is already an effective Free Trade Area since A number of lessons can be drawn from the AFTA experience. Prior to the formation of the AFTA in 1992, a lot of hard work had been done which, in hindsight, also paved the way for its eventual success. The political goodwill and security in the region, achieved through many years of political cooperation and diplomacy, enabled the member countries to focus on their economic development. Likewise, the domestic unilateral reforms exposed the ASEAN economies to domestic competition before embarking on regional competition. This outward-looking development strategy is also reflected in the market-based integration framework of the AFTA, where regional trade is promoted without discrimination against outsiders. This model of economic integration best served the ASEAN, as the region is too small for an inward-looking regional integration. In addition, the political commitment of the ASEAN Leaders was crucial to the AFTA. The political commitment encouraged investors to take a longer-term perspective on the region. In the end, the AFTA reinforced the dynamism of the region and improved its competitive edge as an international production base, attracting foreign direct investment that has been the ASEAN s engine of growth. This is shown in the intra-asean trade that is larger and growing faster than in other regional trading arrangements. Nonetheless, more work has to be done. Given the emerging competitors for investment and trade, and the rising regionalism not only in East Asia but also elsewhere around the globe, the ASEAN needs to rethink its position as an economically integrated region. Such a challenge calls for ASEAN to move towards a broader and deeper economic integration beyond the AFTA. ASEAN Free Trade 20

21 References ASEAN Secretariat AFTA Reader: Questions and Answers on the CEPT for AFTA, Vol.1. Indonesia. Austria, Myrna S Regional Economic Cooperation, Paper presented during the International Conference on East Asian Cooperation: Progress and Future Agenda, Beijing, August and John Avila Looking Beyond AFTA: Prospects and Challenges for Inter-regional Trade. Philippine Journal of Development 28(2): Chia, Siow Yue Regional Economic Integration in East Asia: Developments, Issues and Challenges. Pp in Dreams and Dilemmas: Economic Friction and Dispute Resolution in the Asia-Pacific, edited by K. Hamada, M. Matsushita and C. Komura. Tokyo and Singapore: Centre for Asian and Pacific Studies and Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Intal, Ponciano Jr ASEAN and the Challenge of Closer Economic Integration. Discusion Paper No Makati: Philippine Institute for Development Studies. Naya, Seiji and Michael Plummer Economic Cooperation after 30 Years of ASEAN. ASEAN Economic Bulletin 14(2): Pangestu, Mari, Hadi Soesastro, and Mubariq Ahmad A New Look at Intra- ASEAN Economic Cooperation. ASEAN Economic Bulletin, 8(3): Petri, Peter AFTA and the Global Track. ASEAN Economic Bulletin 14(2): Plummer, Michael ASEAN and Institutional Nesting in the Asia-Pacific: Leading From Behind in APEC. Pp in Asia-Pacific Crossroads: Regime Creation and the Future of APEC, edited by Vinod Aggarwal and Charles Morrison. London: Macmillan Press Ltd. Severino, Rodolfo The ASEAN Free Trade Area: Reaching Its Target, Opening Remarks delivered during the AFTA 2002 Symposium, Jakarta, 31 January Soesastro, Hadi Lessons from ASEAN Institution. Paper presented at the Annual APEC Study Center Consortium Conference, From the Asian Financial Crisis to a Global Recession: Towards a More Proactive Role of APEC, Merida, Mexico, May ASEAN Free Trade 21

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