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Economic Union Remains Elusive For Asia

Mistrust among Asian nations and trade disagreements would be large obstacles to the formation of an Asian Union that operates like the European Union, but experts believe it is an achievable goal.

An Asia Union could "speak with one voice" and have standard rules of trade and exchange "on an above board level where we know the rules of the game," said Jim Arkedis with the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington political research organization.

Renewed Talk of a Union

The idea of an East Asian community of nations - akin to the economically powerful European Union - has been raised for years. On Monday, however, Japan's new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama brought up the subject again at a meeting in New York with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Hu stopped short of agreeing to the proposal, but Japanese government officials say Hu was interested in dealing with some of the issues that have prevented progress toward such a goal.

Roadblocks To An Asia Union

There are are two multi-nation organizations that are active in the region: ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) and APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation). But ASEAN represents only part of Asia, while APEC membership includes some American states. Neither of them represents the economic interests of the entire region.

Long-standing political suspicions still prevail between some Asia neighbors, and those strains would need to be overcome or ignored before a regional group like the European Union could be formed.

Political experts say such an alliance is unlikely any time soon. The Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, free-trade agreements and a unified currency are among numerous difficulties to be addressed before such a community can be realized.

Ways to Build Unity

International trade could be used as a catalyst to build cooperation and trust, said Arkedis. Initial steps "to move down that road" include the continued lowering of trade barriers and increasing contacts at the political level.

Edward Gresser, a financial expert with the "Democratic Leadership Council" in Washington agrees that an economic relationship may forge the way to an Asian Union. "The businesses in Asia are ahead of the governments in merging their strengths," he says. An economic open trade and investment zone in Asia is "probably feasible in the next decade", he adds.

If there were an open and integrated Asian market, it would probably mean a more prosperous and stable Asia, said Arkedis. And having a stable Asia and single organization represent the region, he said, would be a "significant improvement" for the West, and good for the World.