Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Will the ASEAN-OPEC Collaboration Pave Way for Regional Governance?

Given the recent collaborations between regional organisations--ranging from the recent ECOWAS-EAC collaboration to the MERCOSUR-ASEAN one, to the recent ASEAN-OPEC collaboration, you could be forgiven for thinking that the world is slowly and surely moving towards some form of regional governance. I suppose that pre-supposes there to be some form of global governance already. Maybe the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Either way, what they do have to do is to make sense for the rest of us. Questions, such as what type of regional governance will we be seeing should probably be the most viscerally-enquiring ones that we should be asking ourselves.

More in context of ASEAN, let me just say that ASEAN is going places. Not just because it is celebrating its fortieth anniversary, but in that celebration, it is seeking to bring to bear on the anniversary constructive outcomes that can benefit the 10-member organisation. For all the controversies over the ASEAN Charter, and whether Myanmar will be the thorn in the flesh in the conception of a rights-based constitution, what is most clear to the average observer is that things are happening, and the ASEAN region is talking to each other candidly about what it needs to do to ensure its citizens are catered for for the future. It is fair to say that ASEAN sees itself as a key player in the region that needs to have a little bit of clout.

It would therefore probably comes as little surprise that some months after the ECOWAS sub-region (allegedly) started its West African Gas Pipeline, and Latin America began talking about a Bank of the South that ASEAN would start talking about pooling its regional energy together--and it's certainly no lean feat!

ASEAN is thinking these big plans:

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations has agreed to form a regional ASEAN power grid. This will serve as a platform for members to trade electricity under a set of harmonised technical rules and regulations.

ASEAN leaders are also scheduled to sign a plan of action in the next two months in Singapore to put a $7-billion Trans ASEAN Gas Pipeline (TAGP) project back on track, Indonesia's energy minister said. ASEAN will also work closely with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to keep prices in check.

If you think those are big plans, let's try this for good measure: the very fact that they are seeking to collaborate with OPEC to "bring prices in check". For me, this type of collaboration may not just be unprecedented, but an interesting development to underscore how the collaboration underpinning the proverbial "unity is strength" has been chewed,transformed, and spat out into a need to strengthen institutional collaborations world-wide.

It also begs the question of why ECOWAS, in its discussions with the World Bank over the West Africa Gas Pipeline never came up with the idea of linking up with OPEC, considering how critical a country ECOWAS hegemon Nigeria is in the sub-region and the organisation. That CHEVRON has a stake in the WAGP reflects the serious and significant private sector interests that the US has and will continue to have in the region.

Then again, you didn't need me to tell you that; it might have been rather obvious to many casual observers.

What I'm, in fact, further interested in is not just the reporting that ASEAN is working on a regional grid, and it serves as a precedent to a region like the ECOWAS one that has a West Africa Power Pool and the WAGP, but how, it is the sure sign of developments in the regional organisations to come.

You might find this a little whimsical, but consider this: the very fact that a mere google search of "West Africa Power Pool" pulls not articles from ECOWAS, but many other private sector organisations not directly related to ECOWAS underscores the very twist and pernicious development that we will begin to see over this apparent new trend of regionalising power and energy projects--especially in Africa.

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