Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC): The First Decade/Trade Liberalization and APEC

By Low, Linda | Journal of Southeast Asian Economies, August 2005 | Go to article overview

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC): The First Decade/Trade Liberalization and APEC


Low, Linda, Journal of Southeast Asian Economies


Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC): The First Decade. Edited by J. Ruland, E. Manske, and W. Draguhn. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002. Pp. 226.

Trade Liberalization and APEC. Edited by J. Okamoto. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004. Pp. 271.

These two edited volumes provide both beginner and seasoned APEC scholars and researchers with a rich documentation and analysis of its evolutionary process and progress. Unsurprisingly, thirteen authors and editors in the first volume and another eight more in the second, as eminent regional and international experts in the field, are in consensus about the lack of progress of APEC, the Asian crisis notwithstanding.

Basically, the political economy dimension of economic co-operation ultimately weighs more heavily in all regional and global fora and pacts, even or more so, in the multilateral GATTAVTO. Economic co-operation may be the intention and primary goal of all architects in designing regional co-operation. But the practical reality cannot dismiss the politics, not even the normative social and cultural dimensions which can be as distracting as posing as possible deal-breaker in extreme circumstances.

The first volume with lead editor Jurgen Ruland, well-versed in European and Asian political economy studies, comprise ten chapters. The first two chapters surveyed the successes and failures of APEC within the group and as a forum in international relations, one chapter more dismal in its assessment than the other which tries to point out some realistic utility and expectations, especially in community-building. The Europeans, for their history and advance to the EU, may still be surprised how the Asia-Pacific as a "region without regionalism" could yet have some value to represent and balance the theory and practice of regional blocs.

The next six chapters take a regional context, two are on APEC's relationship with regional players, ASEAN and EAEC on one hand, and Latin America on the other, the rest featuring the United States, China, Australasia, and Japan. The new world order, heralded by the 1989/90 collapse of the bipolar Cold War and the merger of Asia and the western rim of the Pacific in APEC, has failed to live up for very familiar reasons ranging from the infamous ASEAN way to the Asian crisis.

The Asian crisis as the turning point for APEC, with a tantalizing allusion whether rebuilding the Asian economies need APEC or a more ASEAN+3 as the "driving engine" may leave APEC proponents in dismay over the possible demise of a truly Asian Pacific sub-engine. In hindsight, the Asian crisis may have been a critical wake-up call both for the heedless speed and quality of "drunk-driving" Asian economies and the resultant version of Asian regionalism, not quite the likes of Western moulds.

The concluding chapter echoes the first that it has been "all talk, no walk" as high politics and security seem to have hijacked the economics of APEC with normative social and cultural issues muddying the waters. Like the conclusion drawn from the Asian crisis, APEC's domination by Western powers, the United States in particular, seems a closed chapter. The guarded caution that the APEC process may still benefit from Western lines of institutionalized co-operation is traded-off against Asian powers slowing down with the demanding binding rules and regulations of liberalization.

The second volume, edited by APEC veteran Jiro Okamoto, is organized into three parts, namely, setting the research agenda, the case studies, and conclusion. The last concluding part incorporates four informative appendixes on a chronology of the APEC Early Voluntary sectoral Liberalization (ESLV) process and reservations as at end 1998.

The first three chapters in Part 1 are conceptual and analytical, even as the gap between aspirations and reality of "free and open trade and liberalization" by 2010 and the demise of the ambitious two-year EVSL are noted from the start.

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