Trade and Industry

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Black cat, white cat - lessons to be learned from ASEAN

  • Year: 2019
  • Organisation: UNU-WIDER
  • Author(s): Sandy Lowitt (TIPS)
  • Countries and Regions: Southern African Development Community (SADC)

WIDER Working Paper 2019/26

This working paper, Black cat, white cat - lessons to be learned from ASEAN, forms part of the project: Southern Africa – Towards Inclusive Economic Development (SA-TIED)


There is some consensus at present that SADC needs to re-imagine itself and breathe new life into its somewhat moribund structure. The European Union is often presented as the textbook example to be followed by other regional associations. The European Union is characterised by a rules-based, heavily bureaucratic and powerful supranational institutional structure to which individual nations have ceded sovereignty in several spheres (most notably the economy). The European Union has progressed in a highly linear and consecutive fashion from a free trade area to a customs union, to a single market and a common currency.

 On the other end of the integration spectrum sits the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Based on Confucian values and culture, it emphasises harmony, group above individual, and pragmatism above rules. ASEAN is designed around principles and behaviour norms rather than rules; it is intergovernmental instead of supranational; it is more market driven than government driven; it has strong bottom up and extra-entity processes, decision-making is based on unanimity not majority; it is institutionally and bureaucratically lite; it embraces open regionalism with unclear rules for entry; and deepening integration is being achieved in an ad hoc, parallel fashion rather than a linear, consecutive fashion.

In this paper, some of the key elements of ASEAN and its operationalisation are considered, not as recommendations or a systematic alternative guide to reconsidering the conceptual basis of SADC’s regional integration efforts – but simply as potential catalysts for discussion and thinking about problems from a different perspective.

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TIPS acknowledges the support of the SA-TIED programme for this working paper, with special thanks to UNU-WIDER and the South African Department of Trade and Industry.