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ASIA TRADE: What has Asia’s trade summit season delivered?

The end of the Asian ‘summit season’ brings a big sigh of relief to most participating members. The region appears to have gotten through November without any apparent disasters, leaders managed to agree on statements, and some new initiatives were announced for trade. by Deborah Elms

If summit season were to stop, the consequences could be serious. At a time of continuing economic disruption, it is more urgent than ever that leaders and staff are given opportunities for informal and formal dialogue to address collective issues of importance to the region. This year, the jamboree started in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with a series of Summits and sideline events for ASEAN, rotated to Bali, Indonesia, for the G20, and wrapped up in Bangkok, Thailand, with the APEC Leader’s Meeting. After several years of Covid-19 disruptions, delegations were finally able to meet in person.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations – ASEAN – and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation – APEC – meetings both highlight a range of trade-related outcomes, but the most important “deliverable” of the summit season is the mere fact that these sessions occur annually in November.

ASEAN trade agreement upgrades On the trade front, two announcements may be most relevant. ASEAN, together with Australia and New Zealand, announced the substantial conclusion of their regional trade agreement – AANZFTA – upgrade. Although ASEAN can keep commitments in the “substantial conclusion” basket for a while, it seems members are hoping to release the texts and commitments next year with entry into force before the end of Indonesia’s Chair year.

ASEAN has six ASEAN+1 agreements in place. Several have already been upgraded, with multiple upgrades to the ASEAN+China FTA. The original AANZFTA entered into force for all parties in 2012. Upgrade talks were slowed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

ASEAN members have also begun the accession process to expand the organisation to include Timor Leste. Talks have been ongoing for some time and the actual accession is unlikely to take place quickly.


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