Is ASEAN "dragging its feet" as China, Japan, USA push models to reduce regional trade barriers?

Ahead of the East Asia Summit in November, ASEAN's economic ministers are meeting to grapple with regional trade issues, including a strategy to liberalise trade in Eastern Asia.

According to analyst Parameswaran Ponnudurai, News Director at Radio Free Asia, economic giants China, Japan and the United States are each pushing models to tear down trade barriers in the region.

China wants "ASEAN plus Three" - linking the 10 ASEAN states and China, Japan and South Korea - in an East Asian Free Trade Area (EAFTA).

Japan wants "ASEAN plus Six" - linking the 13 East Asian countries and India, Australia and New Zealand - in a Comprehensive Economic Partnership for East Asia (CEPEA).

The USA is marketing a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a building block for a larger Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). It may launch TPP at the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November. The TPP already includes the USA, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore, with Australia, Peru, Malaysia and Vietnam negotiating entry.

"ASEAN wants to be in the driver's seat —it has free trade agreements with all the countries involved except the United States and Russia — yet it has been dragging its feet on decision-making," Mr Ponnudurai states.

ASEAN commissioned a study of China's proposal in 2005 and Japan's two years later. The two studies have been completed and are being 'consolidated', perhaps in time for the East Asia Summit (EAS) in November which will be attended, for the first time, by the presidents of the USA and Russia.

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