US, Japan may use ASEAN to railroad bilateral trade pacts

Original Publication Date: 
8 November, 2006

The US and Japan may use the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to negotiate and hasten onerous free trade agreements (FTAs) with member-countries to further consolidate transnational corporate dominance over local economies, according to independent think-tank IBON Foundation.

IBON research head Sonny Africa pointed out that through its Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative, the US was able to conclude a bilateral FTA with Singapore in 2003 while launching ongoing negotiations with Thailand and Malaysia as well as exploratory studies with the Philippines. In addition, it has Trade and Investment Framework Agreements (TIFA) with Indonesia, Brunei and Cambodia, which are precursors to full-blown FTAs.

Japan in turn also completed FTAs (which it calls Economic Partnership Agreements or EPAs) with the Philippines last September, and earlier, with Singapore and Malaysia. It is also negotiating further EPAs with Thailand, Indonesia as well as with the ASEAN as a body.

Africa pointed out that these initial bilateral FTAs serve two objectives: they establish a high minimum standard of liberalization far beyond even those prescribed under World Trade Organization agreements that subsequent pacts would be pressured to follow; and they generate momentum for other bilateral FTAs towards forming a network of US-centered free trade pacts, and subsequently, for a region-wide US-ASEAN agreement. Japan would also be able to use its FTAs for such a purpose.

If these plans bear fruit, they would allow the US and Japan to set up a region-wide production base. They could use such a base to fragment their production processes across Southeast Asia and set up