Reviewed by Debora Di Dio, Development Studies, Macquarie University, Australia
The past few decades have seen a worldwide proliferation of Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs). Most of the world’s countries, and in particular developing countries, have in fact entered into some forms of trade agreements aimed at facilitating economic cooperation and promoting regional integration. Although there have been notable economic benefits, many of these arrangements have only partially contributed to the overall development goals of the member countries, and only marginally improved their regional governance practices.
Governing Regional Integration for Development. Monitoring Experiences, Methods and Prospects is a book that seeks to provide a better understanding of the complex issues associated with monitoring processes, by illustrating existing regional mechanisms and measures intended to regulate and monitor the benefits from increased trade exchange. Edited by Philippe De Lombaerde, Antoni Estevadeordal and Kati Suominen, this book undoubtedly makes an important addition to the growing body of scholarly works that seeks to identify more precise hypotheses on the interaction between the effectiveness of monitoring systems and the successful implementation of trade agreements.
The volume is divided into 4 sections which deal with different aspects and degrees of monitoring in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, Africa and the Middle East, Europe and North America respectively. Each section is divided into several chapters that together present a comprehensive collection of papers discussing specific country case studies. Although the contributors argue that effectiveness and efficiency of monitoring frameworks and mechanisms are very distinctive and highly dependent on the local contexts, they also suggest that the four regional experiences can offer some general lessons and patterns.
The first and longest section of the book, with chapters 2 to 5, paves the way to the discussion of the meaning of regionalism, and starts with describing different approaches of regional integration. By presenting the mechanisms that monitor integration and cooperation in the Andean region (chapter 2), Fernando Prada and Alvaro Spinoza argue that monitoring is understood and implemented differently, according to the diverse local contexts. Monitoring regional integration is therefore not just a process to ensure that trade provisions are implemented and member states comply with them, but it is also an activity where conditions such as the political and economic stability of the different countries come into play, as suggested by R. Rozember and C. Bozzalla in the experience of the Southern Common Market or MercoSur (chapter 5). This section of the book on Central and Latin America is also instrumental to understand that the main constraints to effective monitoring are often represented by inadequate human resources, as emphasised by K. Suominen in chapter 4. Insufficient or lack of skilled staff is a common problem in most developing countries, which can very seriously affect the efficient dissemination of information and consequently hinder the capacity to promote transparency and compliance.
Chapters 6, 7 and 8 are another informative part, which gives general understanding of the development of monitoring and integration activities in South Asia and Oceania. The second part of the book opens with a case study of ASEAN written by C. Nguyen and C. Wesctott (chapter 6). ASEAN is one of the most institutionally developed arrangements in Asia, as well as one of the most successful examples of regional cooperation, and its members have recently adopted an innovative results-based approach for monitoring the impact of the association’s initiatives.
Monitoring of trade agreements is most times a political process, where domestic and international actors influence the outcomes. This is particularly evident in the case of the Pacific, explored over the course of chapter 7 by William Sutherland. Monitoring of regional initiatives is relatively new in the Pacific region, and has become integral part of a regional reform agenda launched in 1994. It is currently being implemented under the involvement and close supervision of external countries and multilateral donors. Sutherland argues that the example of the Pacific is emblematic because it highlights that a serious commitment to regional cooperation is a challenge, especially in contexts that are new to such experience, and that notwithstanding the strong influence of external donors, regional cooperation can only succeed by increasing the participation of local stakeholders. The most interesting part of Part 2 is however the contribution on South Asia by Rodrigo Tavares, in chapter 8. The author here argues that while deficient network infrastructure and marginal integration with the world trade certainly represent major obstacles to regional integration in South Asia, there are other issues such as striking religious contrasts and security arrangements between countries that can more seriously affect any chances of development for that region.
Part 3, chapters 9 to 11, is particularly enlightening in providing detailed accounts of regional cooperation in Africa and the Middle East, whose examples of integration initiatives are seldom discussed or examined. Although this is one of the shortest sections in the book, it provides a thorough investigation of the major obstacles to strong monitoring performance in Africa. T. Al-Khalidi for instance, in his contribution on the Arab Maghreb Union (chapter 10) asserts that while regional growth, trade expansion and economic integration are high-priority issues for many African countries, however the higher economic benefits from agreements that are external to the region, such as those with the EU, are responsible for a lack of attention to regional trade arrangements, as well as a shortage of resources available for monitoring regional processes. As indicated by D. Hansohm and J. Adongo in their work on Eastern and Southern Africa (chapter 11) in many cases it is difficult to measure the political will and commitment of governments to promote integration initiatives. In several instances governments lack the capacity and the appropriate resources for putting forward a comprehensive monitoring apparatus, and the intervention of third parties for technical assistance and capacity building programs becomes essential. Other regional integration mechanisms in other parts of Africa that may have deserved investigation, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) are unfortunately left out from this section.
The last part of the book, Part 4, is composed of two chapters only, on the European Union and North America respectively. The contribution on the EU prepared by Costea, De Lombaerde, De Vriendt and Fühne (chapter 12) presents a new approach to a case study that is often mentioned as the best example of well governed and sustainable integration process, characterised by a wide array of internal and external monitoring initiatives. The authors illustrate how monitoring, in the case of the EU, has gradually become a two-way process, and suggest that this model may be gradually applied in other contexts too. In the EU two-way process takes place where (sub)national states give mandates to regional institutions and therefore monitor what happens at the supra-national level, but also the regional level monitors the national level by supervising the implementation of regional policies. In North America instead (chapter 13), K. Suominen emphasises that the successful implementation of monitoring schemes is due to clear agenda, skilled staff and strong decision-making nucleus.
The editors have highlighted several lessons learned, that are present in all the different integration processes described in this volume. Firstly, in each chapter the authors acknowledge that the scope of monitoring has expanded well beyond implementation and compliance of RTAs agreements, and now also involves the country’s economic stability, political profile and the level of social development and participation of the private sector. Another recurring argument in the book is the association of monitoring processes with the necessity to ensure more information and transparency in the decision-making processes as well as in the state’s interaction with the partner country. Finally, it has been frequently underlined that the role of external parties or donors can be crucial in most circumstances of regional integration, either to guarantee sufficient quantity of resources, or to reinforce the impartiality of monitoring agencies.
Overall this volume is highly instructive. The authors have done a commendable job of synthesising a wide range of work and presenting detailed accounts of the individual case studies in a clear and accessible manner. Charts and annexes included in most chapters are very helpful in bringing clarity to the often very complex structures and hierarchical frameworks described in the text. Nevertheless, the number of agencies and institutions named in the study, and the plethora of acronyms, sometimes becomes overwhelming even for specialists. This volume is highly recommended for scholars and professionals in regional integration and trade agreements, whilst it can be more challenging for the general public.