ASEAN, the association of Southeast Asian nations, is gaining importance as a trading bloc and is the third largest in the world after the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement. It includes the Asian Tigers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam (ASEAN 6) with smaller players such as Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, with a total GDP of $2.31 trillion (2012) and hosts about 600 million people. “It is essential that partners like China, when they enter into new agreements like this, not only provide the details of such agreements, but act faithfully to their minds,” Birmingham told The Age newspaper. Other ASEAN agreements are being negotiated, including with Japan, which already has a number of important economic partnerships, while South Korea already has a free trade agreement. Both resemble the above – the reduction of more than 90% of all goods traded between ASEAN and these countries. In addition to the China-India free trade agreement, ASEAN also has a combined free trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand, known as AANZFTA. The agreement, which will also be phased in, has eliminated tariffs on 67% of all products traded between regions and will be extended to 96% of all products by 2020. This is the first time ASEAN has entered into negotiations on a free trade agreement covering all sectors, including goods, services, investment and intellectual property rights, making it the most comprehensive trade agreement ever negotiated by ASEAN. For more details on this agreement, click here.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang celebrated the signing of the agreement in a speech at the summit, saying: “The signing of the RCEP is not only a milestone in East Asian regional cooperation, but also a victory for multilateralism and free trade.” “The economic benefits of the agreement may be marginal for Southeast Asia, but there are some interesting trade and customs dynamics for Southeast Asia,” said Nick Marro of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). However, it sets rules for trade that facilitate investment and other business in the area, said Jeffrey Wilson, research director at the Perth USAsia Center. This new analysis proposes to examine two key areas, including port facilities and competitiveness in Internet services. According to the report, reforms in these areas could increase ASEAN trade by 7.5% ($22 billion) and 5.7% ($17 billion). On the other hand, a reduction in tariffs on all ASEAN members on the South-East Asia regional average would increase intra-regional trade by about 2% ($6.3 billion).  Many Member States already have free trade agreements, but there are restrictions. Although these ASEAN national customs and trade authorities coordinate with each other, disputes can arise. The ASEAN secretariat does not have the legal authority to resolve these disputes, so disputes are resolved bilaterally through informal means or dispute resolution. The AFTA agreement was signed in Singapore on 28 January 1992. When the AFTA agreement was originally signed, ASEAN had six members: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Vietnam joined the country in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999. The AFTA now includes the ten ASEAN countries.