Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Regional Integration Perspectives: Closer Towards an East Asian Community?; AU-GCC FTA in the Offing?

There is some ground-breaking stuff going on in the area of regional integration: no less than the fifty-three member African Union has instituted an audit of its institutions.

It goes without saying that policy without direction is policy in a vaccum. An audit as a self-evaluating and self-monitoring tool can help the AU look deep into itself, and attempt at a resolution of some of the existential angst that it is suffering from. Arguably, one of the biggest of these is the proposed union government that was the subject of debate at the AU summit here in Accra last June.

An article in IPPmedia.com maintains that according to a report by Regional Economic Development and Integration, debate has been mounting on the appropriate form of a proposed union government. The report went on to say that conclusion on the debate of a formation of a continental government was subject to the finalization of the report.

AU-GCC Pact?
Meawhile, a very short article from gulf-times.com points to a desire by the de facto SADC hegemon South Africa to complete an FTA between the AU and the Gulf Cooperation Council. On reading the news, my visceral question was to ascertain since when South Africa had become the spokesperson for the AU; and secondly, was this not a masked desire by the country to itself establish an FTA with the GCC.

Interestingly enough, Pretoria maintains that it is impossible for one to be set up between itself and the country that will host the next session(XIII) of UNCTAD in 2012—Qatar, but one can be arranged between the GCC and the AU.

The reason being that South Africa is a member of a customs union, comprising the so-called BLNS countries (Botswana; Lesotho; Namibia and Swaziland).

Aren’t we going in circles here I wonder? Point is: the AU can set up one with the GCC. Fine, but why does SA have to speak on the 53-member body’s behalf as it did, when the South African Trade minister Mandisi Mpahlwa, speaking on the sidelines of a business forum organized by the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told reporters when prompted by reporters. That in itself raises questions as to why reporters were asking about such an FTA to the country itself? What made them think South Africa would have the answer? Last time I looked, the AU had a Commission, which would take care of such questions!

EAC’s all the rage!
Though it’s been a while since I talked about the five-member regional organization that saw Rwanda and Burundi join its ranks in July last year, this is an EAC of a different kind. We’re talking about the East Asian Community, which has been promoted and promulgated so many times in the ASEAN world it’s no longer funny. ASEAN’s issues with Myanmar notwithstanding, it seems clear that an East Asian Community—probably modeled on the EU and NAFTA—would be a model that could work for the region. I suspect that one that worked like ECOWAS (in whichever form or content it exists) with a commission and commissioners is what might work best. The EU at 27 members seems a tad unwieldy these days, what with its aspirations to have an EU president and all that. Furthermore, with little movement on a referendum, and with ASEAN having adopted a charter where the EU failed, it seems, IMHO, that a hybrid of regional forms is what might best work for the proposed EAC.

But who am I to propose that? After all, the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), described as "a key initiative to support the formation of the East Asian Community has received full support from senior government officials in Brunei". This means, in short, that a considerable amount of resources are going to be put its way to chart the course of a putative Asian Community. Note what the article says:

The think tank, which will formally be established this year in Jakarta, will receive Y1 billion from the Japanese government for 10 years, said Hidetoshi.
The think tank will also be publishing 55 volumes of research on all 16 countries in the region soon, said Hidetoshi. Brunei's Centre of Strategic and Policy Studies (CSPS), one of the ERIA member research institutes, is involved with over 300 researches in 16 countries, including the 10 Asean countries and its dialogue partners, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

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