Prospects for Regional Free Trade in Asia

Working Paper
05-12
October 2005

Gary Clyde HufbauerFrustrated with lackluster momentum in the Doha Round and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and mindful of free trade agreement (FTA) networks centered on the United States and Europe, Asian countries have joined the FTA blitz. By 2005 Asian countries (excluding China) had ratified 14 bilateral and regional FTAs and had negotiated but not implemented another seven. Asian nations are also actively negotiating 23 bilateral and regional FTAs, many with non-Asian partners, including Australia, Canada, Chile, the European Union, India, and Qatar. China has been particularly active since 2000. It has completed three bilateral FTAs-Thailand in 2003 and Hong Kong and Macao in 2004-and is initiating another 17 bilateral and regional FTAs. However, a regional Asian economic bloc led by China seems distant, even though China accounts for about 30 percent of regional GDP.