ASEAN trade barriers fall, but will political barriers follow?

The new regional free trade agreement across ASEAN-China is off to a strong start:

To date, about 99 percent of tariffs have been removed, with exemptions awarded to rice, tobacco and alcohol, along with scores of other sensitive items. Customs procedures are being harmonized and common standards applied.

The regional economic integration across ASEAN has many observers comparing it to the EU. ASEAN countries have vast disparities developmentally, culturally, economically, and politically. Signatories will be absorbed at staggered dates, with the least developed countries like Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Burma to sign on 2015.

Many investors are optimistic about tapping the potential high growth this particular FTA will bring, especially since other regions’ economies are still struggling to recover. What is worrying is the expectation that “international issues such as education, medical research and climate change will be governed increasingly from a trade perspective”.

This bodes not so good for countries like Cambodia..

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