Converging Regulations for the Chemical Industries of ASEAN: Feasibility from a Political Perspective

by Davin Ng

From the Faculty Nominator:

“If regional treaties and institutions are ineffective at promoting the free trade principles that are ultimately to the benefit of all ASEAN member states, different approaches have to be made by ASEAN leaders and the Secretariat. Pushing for strong, top-down centralized regional institutions may sound appealing to bureaucrats and academics, but that thinking relies too much on the EU model and ignores the diverse nature of Asian socio-economic and political realities. The EU model may also prove counter-productive for ASEAN, where Razeen Sally describes the oft-ignored flaws as, “bureaucracy- heavy institutions, lack of accountability of elites, over-centralized, illiberal economic policies, and an unhealthy obsession with institutions and bureaucratic processes.” Market forces have proven to be more effective and impactful incentives for the promotion of free trade and are more compatible with the “ASEAN Way.” In recognition that the problems associated with trade in Southeast Asia are most effectively solved by allowing the mechanisms of a market-based economy to operate without restrictions, so-called “free-market solutions” provide lucrative incentives for businesses to abide by policies.”

“Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) have proven themselves ineffective in preparing the region for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Even though the FTAs have reduced intra-regional tariffs to almost zero, non-trade barriers still exist within individual ASEAN member states for protectionist reasons. The more the AEC is studied, and the more ASEAN governments are observed to be dragging their feet at implementing needed reforms through legislation which are not enforced and barely heeded.”

From the Author:

“I was instructed to write this paper for my internship with the Singapore Chemical Industry Council. The ASEAN Economic Community was a regional initiative which was to start on December 2015, and the chemical industry of Singapore was simultaneously preparing to implement a fresh set of internationally-mandated regulations. The Regulatory Affairs Committee of SCIC was keen on understanding what steps the industry ought to do moving forward in order to comply with the ASEAN Economic Community, and I was brought in as a student of International Relations to help several engineers make sense of global politics. Despite no prior knowledge of chemical engineering and its related regulatory regimes, it was a challenge I relished.
The paper first establishes the key challenges which stand in the way of establishing the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) across ASEAN states. By studying the mixed levels of GHS implementation across ASEAN, the variety of Asian attitudes towards international regulatory regimes and their respective political economy could be divined and analyzed. Comparisons of the different types of regional integration among ASEAN and the EU were made, and the paper proceeds to indulge in offering several solutions to encourage effective economic integration in ASEAN.
Acknowledgments and disclaimers: I wish to thank the Singapore Chemical Industry Council, and especially the Regulatory Affairs Committee for allowing me the opportunity to embark on this work. Several members of the Regulatory Affairs Committee were interviewed whilst collecting information for this paper, and their identities were rendered anonymous to prevent the jeopardy of confidential business information.”

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