Regional Integration

The past few years have seen nationalism re-emerge as an obstacle to European integration. The Brexit referendum and Catalonian fight for independence serve as reminders of the active forces of disunion. Immigration, populism and economic crisis have weakened the vision of a borderless Europe. Yet the defeat of right-wing populist forces in the Netherlands, Germany and France - demonstrated the resilience of the union among the remaining 27 member states.

Trump’s protectionist moves since becoming President have weakened the political cohesion among the already disparate NAFTA nations – the US, Canada and Mexico. Whilst the free trade area has linked the highly developed US and Canada to developing Mexico for more than two decades; a rising US trade deficit and influx of migrants from Mexico led to renegotiations that are still underway and overtime, missing the initial Congress deadline due to vast remaining differences. In addition to this, Trump’s withdrawal from the TPP has reduced the US’s stake in South East Asia at a time when China is rapidly expanding.

Asian economic integration has proved remarkably successful over the past several decades with China serving as the engine of growth. Despite this, mounting geopolitical rivalry and slowing economic growth have emerged as obstacles to further regional integration.  Whilst the South China Sea dispute has been somewhat mitigated through Sino-Filipino convergence, the Sino-Indian territorial dispute over Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin remains potent. The tension between the two largest regional economies is a barrier to India’s inclusion in APEC, which could offer the region a source of long term growth and offset the slowdown in the Chinese economy.  

The creation of the African Union in 2001 replaced the Organisation of African Unity, marking a new era of African integration. Although 13 regional economic unions currently exist within the AU, continental financial and macro-economic integration remains limited. Economic growth has not been ‘pro-poor’ and overall inequality has risen. AU member states remain hesitant to cede some of their sovereignty to a supranational institution and as the union is inclusive there is no incentivising ‘carrot and stick’ mechanism through which policy adherence can be ensured.

In the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings, the Middle East and North Africa remains of one of the least integrated regions. Although the GCC states continue on a trajectory of closer conformity and integration, the on going conflicts in Syria and Yemen and Saudi-Iranian balancing are just some of the barriers to broader political union outside of the GCC. 2016 saw Lebanon and Palestine join the Agadir free trade agreement, yet trade corridors and resource logistics within the region remain limited due to the remnants and remains of conflict.

Author: Sarah Stearne