Prospects for Regional Free Trade in Asia
Frustrated with lackluster momentum in the WTO Doha Round and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, and mindful of free trade agreement (FTA) networks centered on the United States and Europe, Asian countries have joined the FTA game. By 2005, Asian countries (excluding China) had ratified 14 bilateral and regional FTAs and had negotiated but not implemented another seven. Asian nations are also actively negotiating some 23 bilateral and regional FTAs, many with non-Asian partners, including Australia, Canada, Chile, the European Union, India, and Qatar. China has been particularly active since 2000. It has completed three bilateral FTAs—Thailand in 2003 and Hong Kong and Macao in 2004—and is initiating another 17 bilateral and regional FTAs. However, a regional Asian economic bloc led by China seems distant, even though China accounts for about 30 percent of regional GDP. As in Europe and the Western Hemisphere, many Asian countries are pursuing FTAs with countries outside the region. On present evidence, the FTA process embraced with some enthusiasm in Asia, Europe, and the Western Hemisphere more closely resembles fingers reaching idiosyncratically around the globe rather than politico-economic blocs centered respectively on Beijing, Brussels, and Washington.
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