Conclusion

Though ASEAN+3 is not in itself a regional trade agreement, it is a significant landmark in both the history and present shape of free trade negotiations in Asia. Most importantly its attempts to create a free trade area were a significant part of the diplomatic calibration process necessary to finding a happy medium between small but workable groupings such as ASEAN+3, and larger, more inclusive, but less workable groupings such as the East Asia Summit.

ASEAN+3’s East Asia Vision Group reports were paramount in defining and promoting the now dominant view that groups of countries with pre-existing webs of bilateral agreements could make effective negotiating forums. Today agreements designed to cut through the noodle bowl effect, like the RCEP, are being negotiated on the principle that regional agreements can be negotiated in a relatively streamlined manner by modelling themselves on the bilateral agreements already in place between members.

As ASEAN+3 countries continue to play a crucial role in the RCEP negotiations it remains an important bloc to understand, as the levels of liberalization possible between these countries sets the benchmark for RCEP negotiations. Should those benchmarks not be reached an ASEAN+3 agreement also remains a viable way to achieve deeper levels of integration and liberalization for those who desire it.

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