"Panel discusses problems, scope of regional integration"

Panel Discussion: June 8, 2001

Time is right to forge economic cooperation, avoid future crises

Panelists at the discussion on "Scenarios for Regional Integration" were Supachai Panitchpakdi, former deputy prime minister and minister of commerce of Thailand, who is now director general designate of the World Trade Organization; Yoo Sang-boo, chairman and chief executive officer of South Korea's Pohang Iron & Steel Co.; Shigeji Ueshima, chairman and executive director at Mitsui & Co.; and Noordin Sopiee, chairman of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) in Malaysia.

Following is a summary of remarks from the panel discussion:

Noordin: East Asian economic integration is gradually gaining wider acceptance. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's idea to create an East Asian economic group was considered heretical when he proposed it 10 years ago. Had regional economic integration been realized earlier, Asia may have been able to skirt the economic crisis in 1997. Although economic integration has a political aspect as well, we should not fear the challenge.

Supachai: Behind the growing acceptance of such a move lies dissatisfaction in many countries across the world about a multilateral trade approach since the WTO ministerial meeting in Seattle in 1999. The time is ripe for East Asia to forge economic cooperation. Any single country in the region alone cannot overcome the kind of crisis that occurred in 1997. Comprehensive agreement in the region is necessary. Financial bankruptcy will lead to a blow to regional trade. There was a 30% drop in regional trade in 1998 following the crisis the previous year.

Yoo: There seem to be differences between recent regional economic groupings, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the European Union, and those in the 1960s-1970s. Everyone acutely feels the disadvantage of East Asia having no economic cooperative framework. Partly because the region shares a similar sense of values, economic unification is vital for the region.

Ueshima: The WTO's multilateral trade approach has not functioned well over the past 10 years. The benefits and advantages being enjoyed by NAFTA and EU member countries have prompted many businesspeople in Asia to acutely feel the need for a similar regional economic bloc in East Asia.

The Asian economic crisis in 1997 sparked a regional enthusiasm about creating a new framework (to survive another possible round of economic hardship). The current delay in launching WTO multilateral trade talks is another factor fanning such momentum.

(The Nikkei Weekly July 30 Issue)

Titles of speakers, names of companies, etc., were correct as of the time when the forum was held.