The Asian crisis of 1997 had precipitated greater regional integration. A recent study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) finds intra-regional trade and investment to have increased sharply following the crisis. Similar increases were observed in macroeconomic links, trade policy cooperation, intra-regional tourist flows and synchronisation among equity markets.
The study examines 16 key Asian economies. These include ten economies of South-East Asia (ie. Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand). It also includes India, China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The grouping comprises 87.3% of Asia’s population and 49% of the world population. At $116.3 billion, the grouping’s GDP is 96.3% of Asian GDP and 23% of world GDP. All the economies, except India, Indonesia and Japan, have trade-GDP ratios higher than 50%. There is no denying that the club of sixteen is a significant entity in world economy.
Why did the Asian crisis encourage regional integration? The study points to the regional complementarities as driving forces. The Asean pushed integration by emphasising on growth of supply chains within the region. This helped in efficient utilisation of varying comparative advantages arising from differential endowments of labour, capital, natural resources and technological capacities in the region.
In December 1997, Asean members agreed to increase intra-regional trade for strengthening national currencies and implementing Asean free trade and investment areas.
Can the current crisis deepen Asian regionalism? It can. First, the crisis has cut across-the-board and affected all regions. Asia is not an exception. However, Asia is not as heavily affected as North America and Europe. The latter are facing their worst recessions. Output is expected to contract by -1.6% and -2.0% respectively in US and Euro area in 2009. Similar contractions are expected in mature Asian economies (e.g. Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan) as well. Asian growth, however, albeit at a moderate level will be maintained by