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Economy

ASEAN finds free trade a tougher sell in today's environment

As the U.S. pulls back and China expands, Southeast Asia tries to adjust

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A production line at Honda's new plant in Prachinburi, Thailand   © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- People become aware of the divine power of a mantra only when they no longer hear it.

People have been hearing world leaders inveigh against protectionism after official meetings for so long that they barely took notice. But the communique released on March 18 after the Group of 20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting in Baden-Baden, Germany, made no mention of it. Many in Asia worry that the G-20's sudden reticence on trade signals the end of an era.

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