The Future of EU International Agreements as Legal Instruments in the ASEAN Region

Graham Butler*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) make up two significant economic blocs in the world order. Both Europe and South East Asia are regionally significant, but their regional international organisations are fundamentally different in their character, in their nature, and in their legal systems. However, they do share the common position of wanting to develop economic integration, both internally within themselves, and externally with third parties. As an international organisation, the EU possesses extensive external competence on trade and other related matters coming within the scope of its Common Commercial Policy. Consequently, the ASEAN region, theoretically, presents the EU with options for striking international agreements with either ASEAN as an international organisation, or ASEAN Member States individually, to develop deeper economic ties. This article explores the legal aspects of the EU’s engagement through international agreements in the ASEAN region. With an eye firmly placed on future developments, the article elucidates the legal features of ASEAN, an international organisation, and the international economic law aspects of the ASEAN region, casting doubt over whether a wide-ranging EU-ASEAN framework free trade agreement will ever be achieved. In turn, the article concludes that extensive bilateral international agreements will be reached between the EU and individual ASEAN Member States for the foreseeable future until ASEAN, an international organisation, is conferred, implicitly or explicitly, the necessary competence to conclude an international agreement coverings matters that the EU currently pursues bilaterally with individual ASEAN Member States.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of International and Comparative Law
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)287-305
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Association of Southeast Asian Nations
  • EU
  • European Union
  • FTAs
  • Free trade agreements
  • International agreements
  • Partnership and cooperation agreements
  • Regionalism
  • Strategic Partnerships
  • Treaties


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