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International relations

A low-key meeting in 1991 gave rise to the ASEAN Free Trade Area

Thai prime minister Anand Panyarachun set bloc on a new track after talks with Lee Kuan Yew

BANGKOK -- To this day, when Thai schoolchildren learn by rote the main achievements of their past prime ministers, they are taught that Anand Panyarachun was responsible for the creation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' Free Trade Area (AFTA). What this might mean to them is unclear, but its echoes are still being felt.

In late 2015, ASEAN took another step toward regional economic integration with the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). With no prospect of political or monetary union, the AEC falls short of the European Union model, which it has never aspired to emulate. Nevertheless, it is grounded in AFTA and the work of Anand and other pragmatic economic liberals in the 1980s and 1990s.

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