The previous two chapters show how both open and developmental regionalism in AFTA were driven by concern with growth as the ASEAN governments responded to the pressures of globalisation, although distributive concerns were weaved into the concern with growth in developmental regionalism as governments also sought to nurture domestic capital. The tension between growth and distribution in the ASEAN countries was, in fact, a constant theme during the 1990s. In some instances, distributive concerns overwhelmed the concern with growth as governments sought to protect certain social groups and selected firms against the competitive effects of regional liberalisation. In these instances, despite initially agreeing to regional liberalisation, governments were prepared to re-negotiate their original AFTA commitments to protect the interests of these politically important groups and of those domestic firms with close ties to the political elite. The first part of this chapter elaborates on this theme by focusing broadly on the implementation of regional liberalisation commitments in manufactured goods, investment and services. Discussion in the rest of the chapter focuses on three specific disputes in AFTA—petrochemicals, agriculture and automobiles—which clearly illustrate how departures from AFTA commitments occurred to protect firms with close ties to the political elite.
Despite the advances made in AFTA, which are described in Chapter 2, the regional project was not without problems. Although member governments often made ambitious commitments for liberalisation, they sometimes attempted to withdraw their initial undertakings, particularly as implementation loomed ahead. This problem virtually occurred in all the component programmes in AFTA, although some issue areas experienced greater setbacks than others.