Free Trade Agreements in East Asia: A Forerunner to Multilateralism?

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The Rise of Asian Free Trade Agreements

On November 4th 2001, one year after the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China announced their intent to form the largest free trade area in the world, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and his ASEAN counterparts signed the deal that became effective on the first of January 2010. This event marked a paradigm shift in thinking among the nations of ASEAN, the original intent of which was to keep an eye on communist aims, specifically Chinese aims in the region during the Cold War. As a result of the new trade deal, Japan and the Republic of Korea (RoK) quickly followed suit to form free trade agreements (FTAs) of their own with ASEAN. Although China, Japan and the RoK are part of
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Through the years, ASEAN role and function continued to morph and gradually included more emphasis on economic and trade issues, particularly following two important regional events; opening of the Chinese economy in late 1978 and the Asian economic crisis of 1997. The Chiang-Mai Initiative in May 2000 was but one response to the financial crisis that led ASEAN to partner with China, Japan and the RoK to increase financial stability, and through the economic ties brought about by the Chiang-Mai Initiative, ACFTA was born. The ACFTA was initiated in December of 2001 with the intent to create the world’s largest free trade area; however it now ranks as the world’s third largest behind the European Economic Area and the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA). Regardless, the ACFTA presents great opportunity for the ASEAN nations by allowing access to Chinese production and consumers and may prove to be the impetus needed to help them dig out of the current economic crisis. In fact, ASEAN exports to China have helped propel China past the United States as a trading partner. However, China stands to gain much more than the ASEAN nations, both economically and strategically. The ACFTA helps ensure Chinese access to raw materials and energy resources critical to China’s continued rise and by extension, provides a mechanism to counter U.S. influence in the region by
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