October 24, 2009
The 15th ASEAN summit kicked off in Thailand yesterday amid heavy security. For those in the know, the April summit could not be held because of heavy anti-government protests.
The ten ASEAN countries have decided to establish a human rights watchdog, considered by observers as weak and ineffective, as it lacks powers to punish offenders (BBC News). The main topic on the summit’s agenda is the creation by 2015 of an European-style economic community of nations, which would include China as well. In Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva’s vision, the planned community would emphasize “connectivity” (meaning the free flow of goods, capital and labour in the region) and “action” (meaning collective responses against external threats, natural disasters or internal turmoil).
During the summit, the ASEAN countries have also signed a free trade deal with India, worth some 47 billion US dollars. The deal will lead to a steep reduction in custom duties over the next few years for electronics, chemicals, machinery and textiles. India will, however, continue to protect its agricultural sector, as well as its computer services and software industry.
The trade agreement with ASEAN, India’s fourth largest trading partner, concludes six years of negotiations and takes effect in January 2010. In the words of Amit Mitra, secretary-general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce,
“our minds have met. Of course, a few will lose, but many more will gain.”Spotlight on Geopolitics