ASEAN in a Regional Perspective

Trade among the ASEAN economies is higher than one would expect, based on their income levels and other important determinants of bilateral trade. The same is true of trade within East Asia more broadly (or trade within an ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand grouping). To the extent that this regional concentration of trade is attributed to formal or informal regional trading arrangements, they appear to be trade-creating, not trade-diverting. The rate of increase of trade within ASEAN or within East Asia, however, can be entirely explained by the rapid growth of the countries. There is nothing left over to attribute to an intensifying bloc. Perhaps the regional concentration, which shows up from the beginning of the sample period, is not due to formal measures, such as the decision to form an ASEAN FrA, but rather to a shared trading culture. (Trade among Southeast Asian countries will in the future naturally continue to grow more rapidly than incomes.) The openness of the Indochinese countries, suitably adjusted, was very low in 1992, but had almost doubled by 1994. If these formerly autarkic countries restore normal trade relations with the rest of the world over the coming decade, the gravity model predicts that their trade will expand another seven-fold, in addition to the expansion attributable to growth. The stock of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is a significant determinant of trade. We find that bilateral FDI can be modelled analogously to bilateral trade. In both cases, there is no evidence that Japan has accelerated its economic interactions with Southeast Asia, beyond what can be attributed to simple economic growth rates. We accept others' arguments that the ASEAN countries' trade relations with the industrialized countries are more important than their relations with each other. But we do not accept the argument that the latter are unimportant. If the ASEAN countries make serious progress along the path that they have set for themselves under the AFTA, the gains from increased trade and investment in the area are potentially important. Furthermore, such progress would give them more of a voice at the global level.

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