Although external pressures stemming from globalisation drove ambitious commitments in AFTA towards open and developmental regionalism, the previous chapter reveals that sustaining regionalism itself became an onerous task due to domestic political priorities that emphasised distribution over growth. The latter led to disputes among member governments, particularly over agriculture and automobiles that threatened to stall the AFTA project. Yet, AFTA did not collapse. This was because member governments managed to address these conflicts through regional-level processes that helped to diffuse tensions, which in turn allowed cooperation to proceed. Specifically, the ASEAN governments bargained over implementation in order to address the growth-distribution conflicts within, and consequently between, member countries. Thus, implementation of AFTA became a political process rather than merely a technical one of complying with the commitments already made. Nevertheless, this process, which led to a downward revision of original AFTA targets and partial institution building, was valuable because it allowed the AFTA project to continue as a result of the compromise worked out between the growth and domestic distributive priorities of the project’s different members.
The literature on international cooperation emphasises either the role of hegemonic power in maintaining cooperative processes or the role of institutions in sustaining cooperation (Keohane 1989). Yet, AFTA has made some fairly significant advances in regional economic cooperation despite the absence of a regional leader and even though the institutional structures considered to be necessary to ensure implementation were not put in place when the project was initiated. 1 The institutional argument is not rejected outright, however. One of the insights from the literature on post-agreement or compliance bargaining, which is well suited to explaining implementation in settings lacking a clear leader or a hegemonic power as in ASEAN, is that institutional structures can emerge out of the implementation process itself rather than simply prior to implementation. These emergent institutions, in turn, structure the game in ways that help to advance the cooperative process. The rest of this chapter