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- Lavleen Kaur Kapoor



The dream of transforming the world into global village through free flow of goods, services technology, capital and manpower is still a distant dream, but the emergence of various Regional Trading Agreements (RTAs) in the latter half of the 20th century is a big step forward in the gradual integration of the world. Today, almost every country is a member of at least one regional organization and engaged with many such association. For instance, India is a member of South Association for Regional cooperation (SAARC), India, Brazil, South Africa (IBSA), BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) etc and engaged talks with ASEAN, G-8, SACU, MERCUSUR, SCO etc. 

Among the numerous trade blocs of today’s world, NAFTA (North Attractive Free Trade Area), E.U. and the ASEAN are the most important and most successful one. These regional Trade areas played the crucial role in the growth and development of their member nations. The recently concluded 19th ASEAN summit in Bali, Indonesia was keenly observed by the world community. The significance of ASEAN can be surmised from the fact that the largest economies of Asia viz. China, India, and Japan are the full dialogue partners of ASEAN. Apart from this ASEAN has FTAs with the S. Korea, Japan and China and about to start on with India. 
ASEAN came into being in 1967 at Bangkok summit as an outcome of Bangkok declaration. ASEAN i.e. Association of South East Asian Nations has 10 member viz- Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Phillipines, Brunie Daruslulam, Vietnam, Laos People, Democratic Republic, Myanmar and Cambodia. Through primarily established as a regional economic cooperation, the ASEAN has started looking beyond the contours of economic cooperation and is engaged in other aspects of development like democracy, environment, peace and reconciliation, security, women empowerment, food security, disaster management, human trafficking etc. Enhancing the role of ASEAN in the region, ASEAN members mooted the concept of East Asia Summit where the participation was based on the criteria set be the ASEAN. First East Asian Summit was held in 2005.
At the 18th ASEAN summit held in May 2011 at Jakarta, the leaders agreed for the establishment an ASEAN community on the lines of European Economic Community. While acknowledging the challenges of establishing the ASEAN Community, the ASEAN leaders agreed to increase the effects of individual states as well as the joint efforts to establish such community by 2015. The ASEAN leader also agreed for the establishment of an ‘ASEAN Institute of Peace and Reconciliation, with the goal of promoting a culture of peace as well as respect for diversity and tolerance in order to create the conditions necessary for sustainable regional peace and reconciliation. Another statement was issued on “Enhancing Cooperation against trafficking the persons in South East Asia” and on the implementation of the Master plan on ASEAN connectivity which prioritize the development of infrastructure, and institutions for community empowerment. The resolution of the conflict of member states is on important pre-requisite for the success of any regional cooperation and therefore leaders also agreed for the peacefully resolving the conflict between Thailand and Cambodia. Before the commencement of 18th ASEAN summit, the first E.U.-ASEAN summit was held which further sheds light on the growing significance of ASEAN for the world powers.
19th ASEAN summit
The 19th ASEAN summit was held in Bali, Indonesia to take forward the goals enunciated at 18th summit in Jakarta, apart from looking for the new avenues for the holistic development of the region. Since ASEAN members include the nations like Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines which are fuelling the growth of the region, the leaders resolved to make ASEAN the engine of growth for the region and underlined the role of ASEAN in strengthening the regional cooperation. Among the regional organizations existing in Asia like SAARC, BIMSTEC, Gulf cooperation council (GCC), Shanghai cooperation organization (SCO) etc ASEAN is the most successful one in delivering the assigned goals and therefore its leaders agreed for the pivotal role in building a more efficient and effective architecture for regional cooperation.
ASEAN exist at a major sea route connecting the trade lines between Australia, Europe, South Asia, Africa, China, Japan, South Korea etc. To ensure the smooth verities trade between there countries and region, the peace and stability in the region in of paramount importance, through the leaders of ASEAN, at its 19the summit agreed to maintain the South East Asian regional stability and security.
The ASEAN economies are also engaged in the close trade ties with the East Asia economies of China, Japan, South Korea in addition to the expanding trade with Australia, India and other countries of the world. The close interaction of the economies of such a large region affects every country whether there is boom or recession in any country. Therefore it is of utmost importance for the ASEAN to strengthen the economy of the south Asia so as to contain the shock and fuel the growth of the region.  
The joint statement issued by the leaders of ASEAN resolved to strengthen the role of ASEAN in the global geopolitics. Today, in the international forums like World Trade Organization, International Monetary Funds, Climate talks etc, the voice of developing countries is scattered one in contrast to organized developed world. The platforms like G-20, SAARC, ASEAN etc should come together to make the voice of developing countries heard by the developed countries. Therefore for the welfare of world in general and developing countries in particular, the role of such organizations is extremely important.
 The larger integration of the world had led to the spurt in the production activities due to the enlargement of market. The highly intensive production had led to the depletion as well as contamination of natural resources which resulted in the food and water scarcity on one hand and deterioration in quality on the other hand. All nations of the world today agree for the goal of containment of climate change but there is lack of consensus on the ways to achieve that containment. Therefore the 19th summit of ASEAN came out with a declaration on the Joint effort to develop platform for real action to address the issue of food, water, environment, security and climate change. Tackling these issues is of utmost significance if the world has to tread on the path of sustainable development.
 These days, the security challenges are also diversified and apart from those of the enemy countries, the non-traditional security challenges include terrorism, natural disasters, trans-boundary crimes etc. Such incidents not only adversely effect the economic growth but also hamper the social peace in the country. For that matter, the 19th ASEAN Summit came out with a statement on non traditional security challenges like natural disasters, trans-national crimes etc. The natural disasters can’t be averted but a better preparation can reduce the loss to the human sufferings due to that disaster.
 And last but not the least; summit also issued a statement on the Joint effort to maintain peace, security, stability and order of the East Asian Region. Since ASEAN countries lie in the strategic geo-politic location, the peace and stability in the region is essential for not only ASEAN countries but for the East and South Asians nations also.
India and ASEAN –
 With the disintegration of Soviet Union in 1991 which was the most significant trade partner of India, India had to look for the other regions to boost its external trade. This was the major reason behind the enunciation of Look East Policy under which, India looked for the closer ties with the ASEAN. In 1992, India was accorded the status of Sectoral Dialogue Partner while the Full Dialogue Partner status was accorded in 1995. India and ASEAN signed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 2009 where both will lift import tariffs on 80 percent of the products between 2013 and 2016. With the greater engagement with ASEAN, India can become a favorite destination of ASEAN FDI as they are looking for the safe investment options. Another important advantage for India is the diplomatic one where India can check the rise of China in the region which is aggressively expanding its hegemony in the region. Due to its strategic location in the Indian Ocean, India can’t neglect Chinese activities in ASEAN. Further, the opening up of the doors of ASEAN for Indian products will be of huge advantage for Indian exporters as the purchasing power of ASEAN in greater than that of India.
India is also no less significant for ASEAN as India is the third largest economy of Asia and engagement with such large market will certainly be beneficial in the long run. Indian service industry is highly developed and ASEAN can get immense benefits from the expertise of India in IT, telecommunication, health services etc. Since the median age of workers in ASEAN is on rise, in future, a scarcity of working population may exist, while in India, the median age is low and it can emerge as a useful source of the skilled labor. On diplomatic side too, ASEAN is not keen to live under the shadow of rising China. Already, there is a tension in the South China Sea between China and Vietnam regarding the maritime boundary issue. Therefore ASEAN is also interested in maintaining the balance of powering the region, and for that matter, India is the first choice.
Thus closer ties between ASEAN and India are beneficial for both the countries. India and ASEAN complement each other regarding the objective of peaceful coexistence, sustainable and inclusive growth, stability and security in the region. Both India and ASEAN are poised to grow with each other and not at the cost of each other.   
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