Intraregional Trade Costs in Asia: A Primer (TIID Working Paper Series 1/10)

Working paper20 Jan 2011

While much has been said about the need to promote intraregional trade and the importance of reducing associated trade costs, quantitative estimates of such costs have been lacking. A new comprehensive measure of international trade costs is applied in this paper to calculate ad valorem trade costs within and between 4 Asian subregions, including ASEAN and SAARC. Extra-regional trade costs of the 4 subregions with free trade areas outside Asia, such as NAFTA and the EU, as well as their trade costs with China, India and Japan are also calculated. The analysis concludes with an evaluation of the importance of tariff in overall trade costs. Sharp differences across Asian subregions are identified. ASEAN is found to have much lower intra-subregional trade costs than other Asian subregions, as well as mostly lower trade costs with free trade areas outside Asia. While SAARC intra-subregional trade costs remain exceedingly high, South Asia is found to have made the most progress in reducing such costs since 2003. North and Central Asia, which groups together Russia and landlocked economies in transition, still faces prohibitive trade costs - sometimes exceeding 300% tariff equivalent. Within the East and North-East Asia subregion, a subset of three countries - Japan, China and Republic of Korea – is found to have the lowest intra-group trade costs of any country groups examined in this paper, although the three countries have not signed free trade agreements with each other. Estimates of trade costs between Asian subregions and China, India and Japan, highlight how effective China has been in reducing its trade costs with ASEAN as well as other Asian and non-Asian subregions, achieving generally lower international trade costs than Japan as of 2007. Tariff costs account for a small portion of the overall international trade costs of Asian subregions – typically 10% or less – confirming the need for trade policy makers and negotiators to sharpen their focus on reducing non-tariff barriers.