Editorial: Various Recipes for Regional Integration

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    Regional integration seems to be the name of the game these days. As the dynamics of the multilateral trade scene are fizzling out, regional trade agreements are multiplying at an unprecedented pace. A recognition of the reality that many national markets alone are simply too small, both for selling products, attracting investment, to stimulate innovation and remain competitive. Beyond trade and market integration, there are a host of other sound reasons to bundle forces at regional level and integrate. Politically it makes sense to strengthen the ties with your neighbours as this interdependence reduces the incentives for conflict. 

    The reasons for integration in principle are rather uncontested. But views diverge on almost everything else that concerns regional integration: what form of integration, what breadth and depth of the integration, whether to choose for a light or strong institutional configuration, what sequencing of which steps, who drives the process, how to ensure that the benefits of the integration are widely spread and distributed, what priority does the regional process take in the face of national interests or challenges? How can outsiders usefully contribute or is external support mainly counter productive?

    In this issue of GREAT, several experts address some of the above questions from their point of view. Commissioner Piebalgs explains the lessons learnt from the past EU support to regional integration in the ACP and how he envisages some changes in Europe’s approach to supporting regional integration. The article from the Inter Regional Coordination Committee of East & Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean offers some concrete and innovative proposals on how to increase the effectiveness of support to African regional integration process. Stephen Kingah describes how the US has engaged with regional entities from a geo-political point of view.

    Several articles have a geographical angle. Matthias Vogl and Wautabouna Ouattara look at the challenges of the regional integration process in West Africa, Talitha Bertelsmann-Scott considers the bottlenecks in Southern Africa. Amanda Sunessee draws lessons from the Asian integration process for African integration and Celine Carrere, Julien Gourdon and Marcelo Olarreaga focus on the Middle East and North African region with a particular focus on the role of natural resources.

    Finally three articles take a more conceptual approach to RI. Professor Asche argues for deeper and more institutional integration, while Professor Söderbaum calls integration in Africa simply ‘symbolic regionalism’ and argues to look closer at ‘shadow’ regionalism. Kathleen Van Hove makes a case for a more political economy approach to understanding regional integration dynamics. 

    Kathleen van Hove is Programme Manager, Trade & Regional Integration at the European Centre for Development Policy Management 

    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 1, Issue 9 (November 2012)

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