The regional dimension of economic integration should be seen as complementary to the integration to the world economy and may bring about substantial benefits to developing and transition countries if adequately managed. The benefits from accrued intra-regional trade are well known: the importing country is in a position to meet its demand for consumption and production without having to ship in goods from great distance, while the exporting country gains without incurring large transport costs and by enlarging the scale of its production, which reduces costs.
Furthermore, from an investment point of view, many low-income countries do not have the necessary economic size to be sufficiently attractive for foreign investment. The preferential access to neighbouring markets – both for goods and services – which can be established through the negotiation of free trade agreements or customs unions enable partner countries to make use of regional specialisation and increase the size of their internal market, thus becoming potential trade hubs throughout the region.
To ensure the highest possible “development friendliness” of regional integration vehicles, both the external and the internal dimensions of regional integration should be addressed carefully. Internally, the adequate institutional structure ensuring an efficient functioning should be designed and implemented. Externally, the right “mix” and sequencing of foreign trade instruments should be assessed and negotiated with the trading partners so as to sustain the economic developments of the countries involved, and not – on the contrary – to limit the necessary policy space for their sustainable development.
IDEAS Centre’s services
IDEAS Centre assists governments from developing and transition countries in negotiations within regional blocs or with partners outside the grouping to ensure a coherent and pro-development regional integration process.
The Centre offers support on various components:
- Strategic trade and negotiating policy advice
IDEAS assists governments in trade negotiations within the regional economic schemes to ensure that the partner country assisted adequately defends its interest in the regional integration process or in the negotiations with partner outside the regional schemes such as in the project of assistance to Mozambique in the negotiations on services in the EPA context.
- Institutional building
The Centre supports the establishment of adequate decision-making structures and coordination mechanisms among ministries and agencies within a country and amongst countries from the region, to allow timely and adequate responses to development in international trade. Institutional strengthening should be utilised on a sustained basis for the strategic defence of the region’s trade and development interests. The project on the mapping of Laos’ commitments with ASEAN is an example of such assistance.
- Capacity building and training
The Centre offers training activities such as seminars, workshops or consultations to strengthen the trade-related capacities of civil servants from parties to a regional economic entity or staff thereof. Such support can focus on providing better understanding on trade rules and regulations, progress of Members’ reforms vis-à-vis the regional entity’s strategy, adequacy and coherence of regional rules with multilateral rules, negotiating strategy with external partners, and so forth. The ASEAN DVD project illustrates such support.
- Support to regional institutions
The Centre offers support to regional institutions in defining a common negotiating strategy towards the outside world and in multilateral negotiations. IDEAS can also provide training sessions in Geneva to allow regional institution to familiarise themselves with multilateral negotiations and/or to support a regional representation in Geneva.