People’s Daily | 12 July 2006
Separate FTAs undermine ASEAN spirit of unity: scholar
The signing of separate free trade agreements (FTAs) by individual ASEAN members with other countries will undermine the ASEAN’s spirit of solidarity, a local scholar said on Tuesday.
The practice would also further marginalize the grouping’s poorer members, said Mohamed Ariff Malaysian, executive director of the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research.
Such practices would leave the less developed economies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), like Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, in a more disadvantaged position, he noted.
ASEAN’s collective signing of a FTA with a country like Japan or the United States is a better option than each of its members doing so separately, the professor said.
The grouping’s failure to prevent its members from signing a FTA with other countries at the very beginning had opened the floodgate,he said.
Meanwhile, he admitted that it was difficult for ASEAN as a multi-member group to reach some kind of consensus in that aspect.
As the FTAs have been seen as an economic cooperation that enables signatories to benefit from trade concessions, it is unhealthy for ASEAN which wants to create an ASEAN Economic Community by 2020.
Ariff said the best option was to multi-lateralize the whole process so that all ASEAN countries could benefit.
Currently, some ASEAN countries are engaging in FTA negotiations with several parties, such as Japan, the United States and South Korea.