Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Another Inning of ASEAN Around the Horn

This week I am in Washington, DC, so I have been watching a lot of baseball with my sons.  That has inspired another edition of “ASEAN Around the Horn,” a wrapup of recent events in ASEAN.

First, this past weekend saw the ASEAN foreign ministers hold their annual formal meeting in Brunei.  Again, the best thing that happened in Brunei is that nothing much happened in another “no- drama” meeting run by ASEAN Chair Brunei.  That is to be much appreciated after the controversial ASEAN meetings last year under then-ASEAN Chair Cambodia, especially given the usual tinder for controversy (the South China Sea) and the controversy of the season (the haze) for this year’s meeting.  For more on my own take on the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting and its interaction with the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), please see this posting at which quotes me.

Second, Singapore hosted the annual ASEAN Competition Conference, with the host nation urging the grouping to harmonize their competition laws.  Effective cooperation and administration of competition laws will be necessary once ASEAN establishes a single market for goods and services in the AEC.  However, since the single production base is much more important for the AEC than the single market (and is developing much faster), and since competition laws in ASEAN range from the robust to non-existent, it will be some time before ASEAN develops an effective regional competition policy for the AEC.  Furthermore, although competition law and politics/policy are always intertwined, ASEAN members need to make the application of their competition laws more objective.  Otherwise, trading partners and the business community may view such laws as serving protectionist goals; Indonesia’s use of the competition laws against Singaporean-owned companies in banking and telecoms are but one example.

Third, National University of Singapore Law School held the first of its plenary sessions on ASEAN Integration Through Law (I am participating in the third session in August in Hanoi).  Singaporean Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam focused on harmonization of legal standards and improving legal frameworks.  These are of course important but regular readers of this blog will know that I am supporter of even deeper institutional improvements in ASEAN. 

Fourth, former ASEAN Secretary Surin Pitsuwan spoke about exactly this need to improve the ASEAN institutions, particularly the ASEAN Secretariat.  He also spoke of increasing funding for the Initiative for ASEAN Integration, which could serve as a structural fund for development (if properly funded).  Unfortunately, not much has been happening on either front, particularly with regard to Dr. Surin’s confidential report on institutional reforms in ASEAN, which he had submitted before his term as ASEAN Secretary General ended.