Forging an Australasian Region: Trans-Tasman Integration and Interregionalism in the Asia-Pacific
Most commentators view the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations (CER) agreement as a remarkable example of bilateral integration. CER is not usually regarded, however, as a platform for Australia and New Zealand to jointly engage with third parties. Yet, more than a decade of CER-ASEAN relations culminated, in 2010, in a Free Trade Agreement (the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA, AANZFTA) between the two regions. This suggests that intra-regional trans-Tasman integration might “spill over” into external cooperation with third parties. Close cooperation and joint approaches have not, however, eventuated in other cases. Australia and New Zealand applied separately to join the interregional Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) forum in 2008 and 2009, indicating that their ability to act as a region is not consistent across policy or issue areas. This is an intriguing empirical puzzle, given that most observers of interregionalism elsewhere understand the ability of regions to act in international relations (‘actorness’) as a general, rather than variable, characteristic. Why, then, did Australia and New Zealand negotiate as a single entity with ASEAN on an FTA, but did not coordinate their approach in the ASEM case? This thesis argues that the process of trans-Tasman integration has produced a set of issue-specific institutions, which present Australian and New Zealand policy makers with a ready-made framework for cooperation with third parties in some, but not all, issue areas. Once these institutions were established, it proved a relatively simple step to extend the scope of their operation beyond the trans-Tasman level. This suggests that in the trans-Tasman case, ‘actorness’, understood as the basis on which regions can engage in international relations, may be issue-specific rather than generalised. This thesis makes its case by critically analysing the emergence and evolution of CER-ASEAN relations and by documenting Australia and New Zealand’s separate applications to join ASEM. It draws on extensive archival research and interviews with key actors and decision makers. The thesis adds to the nascent field of interregionalism by offering a new empirical case in which to test and develop theories. It makes a contribution to our understanding of the way institutions shape the scope for regions to “act” in international relations. More broadly, this study provides insights into the relationship between institutional design, individual actors and policy outcomes.