Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 December 2016
On 31 December 2015, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) announced the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). In theory, this agreement has produced association-wide economic integration. However, following the announcement and for the foreseeable future, ASEAN member states will continue to have significantly less than full regional economic integration. Why? Some observers believe that the AEC plans involve an overly ambitious timeline and too many ill-thought-out initiatives. Others point to ASEAN's traditional aversion to legally binding agreements. While progress has been made in reducing or eliminating intra-ASEAN trade tariffs, substantial non-tariff barriers to trade persist. However, for most member states, the ASEAN market is relatively small, while external markets, especially China, are growing rapidly. Given this outward orientation for ASEAN trade, is the lack of an unhindered regional market really a problem?