Can Asia go the next round on economic integration?

Free trade agreements have not brought significant commercial gains or domestic reforms to Asia. There needs to be a stronger focus on multilateral economic integration.

Increased economic exchange and integration of markets in North America and Europe were institution-led through NAFTA and the European Union. The diversity — in levels of development, political systems, political closeness and by many other measures — and the geography saw no such institutional arrangements emerge to promote integration in Asia. Yet East Asia has managed to achieve economic integration on par with North America or Europe through market-led efforts.

Economies in East Asia committed to opening up in the 1980s and 1990s without binding and enforceable external agreements but because they recognised it was the only path to development and prosperity.



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