Asian Free Trade Agreements: Untangling the Noodle Bowl

Feature | 8 August 2013

Over the past decade, trade liberalization initiatives have blossomed across Asia and the Pacific, creating a convoluted 'noodle bowl' of overlapping free trade agreements (FTAs). Here's a by-the-numbers look at trade liberalization and economic integration in the region.

109: The number of ratified FTAs involving at least one country from the region as of January 2013. This is more than triple the number in 2002. There are another 148 FTAs at various stages of development, bringing the total to 257.
Source: ADB report. Regional Cooperation and Integration in a Changing World

189: Close to three-quarters of the FTAs, or 189 out of a total of 257, were bilateral (i.e., involving two countries); only 68 were plurilateral (i.e., involving more than two countries).
Source: ADB report. Regional Cooperation and Integration in a Changing World

More than sixfold: FTAs involving the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and their trade partners Australia, the People's Republic of China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and New Zealand - have increased more than sixfold to 179 in January 2013 from 27 in 2002.
Source: ADB report. Regional Cooperation and Integration in a Changing World

10 plus 6: ASEAN is leading negotiations with its 6 partners to establish the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). This will have a market size of 3.4 billion people and a combined GDP of $21.4 trillion or about 30% of world GDP.
Source: ADB book. Asian Development Outlook 2013

70%: To date, ASEAN+6 countries account for 70% of the total FTAs in Asia.
Source: ADB report. Regional Cooperation and Integration in a Changing World

2015: The year RCEP negotiations are expected to conclude. This is also the deadline ASEAN set to achieve the ASEAN Economic Community, which envisages a highly competitive single market and production base that is fully integrated into the global economy.
Source: ADB book. Asian Development Outlook 2013

2: Two key proposals have been advanced to disentangle the Asian free trade noodle bowl: consolidation - which creates a regional FTA to harmonize bilateral FTAs; and multilateralization - which grants non-discriminatory preferences to nonmembers, eliminating preference discrepancies.
Source: ADB book. Asian Economic Integration Monitor - March 2013