In an article that reminds me why I still plan to re-subscribe to The Bangkok Post, despite its thoroughly disgraceful treatment of the pro-democracy protests, evidence is presented of the positive aspects of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA), which came into force at the beginning of the year and has just passed its first one hundred days.
Many tariffs have been reduced or eliminated (although plenty still remain in the case of so-called ‘sensitive’ products) and so cross-border trade will increase and, as subsidies are reduced or removed, industry will have to become more competitive or fold. One longstanding problem with ASEAN has been the low level of intra-country trade and reliance (by the larger economies) on trading with distant, western markets. Of course, there are powerful political reasons behind this but lack of economic partnership perpetuates political difficulties.
On the whole, there are more winners than losers, especially since most countries have governments willing to intervene in their economies to support local industries and, now that we have reached 2010, a lot of people now realise how to make this kind of arrangement work. However, this being a capitalist world, there are inevitably winners and losers and, while winners can be left to get on with it by and large, the losers are the ones who need additional assistance from government. As ever, it is the vulnerable who need most consideration. Women, in particular, are facing the worst of the ongoing global economic crisis, with many manufacturing jobs (often women-dominated) replaced by stimulus package construction jobs (male-dominated), for example, while reductions in family income mean more women and girls face reduced opportunities for education and social mobility – i.e., once you are poor, you stay poor with poor social mobility. This also has negative effects on quality of life – in practical terms, women are more likely to be stuck at home, especially in rural areas. Then again, when women want to replace lost jobs, they may be forced into the informal economy, where working conditions are insecure. This is not necessarily the karaoke industry but street vending and petty trading, where no protection is available from bullying by officials or gangsters.