Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a regional organization that seeks to promote peace and security, as well as socio-cultural and economic cooperation. It is also an important forum for the negotiation of trade agreements between members and as a bloc.

ASEAN’s mission is to accelerate economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region, through joint endeavors and in the spirit of equality and partnership, in order to strengthen the foundations for a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian nations. It promotes regional peace and stability, through maintaining respect for justice and the rule of law within the relationship among countries in the region and through adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter.

In pursuit of these objectives, the organization has three “pillars”of governance: ASEAN Security, ASEAN Economic Community, and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

ASEAN has ten member states: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Fisheries is a significant sector in the region. Five ASEAN members rank among the top ten countries where the most people are employed, directly or indirectly, in the fishing sector.5

ASEAN cooperates and has run projects with Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, e.g. Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) and Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), and with the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC). SEAFDEC’s membership mirrors ASEAN’s, with the inclusion of Japan.

ASEAN is also a partner in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The RCEP is an initiative to create a regional free trade area by linking the ten ASEAN member states and the group’s Free Trade Agreement partners, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand. RCEP negotiations are ongoing, and Partnership aims to be a “modern, comprehensive, high-quality and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement establishing an open trade and investment environment in the region to facilitate the expansion of regional trade and investment and contribute to global economic growth and development.”


The ASEAN Summit is the top decision-making body of ASEAN and consists of the heads of state of the member countries.

Decision-making in ASEAN is accomplished by consensus and is arrived at through informal consultation. The “ASEAN way” relies on personal connections among political leaders during internal consultations. The organization is state-centered in its focus, with little connection to the civil societies of its member states.

A key part of the ASEAN way is an emphasis on informality and loose arrangements. The organization seeks to foster personal relations rather than commit to ambitious institution building. In ASEAN, there is a strong principle of non-interference and respect for each member’s sovereignty.

In ASEAN, environmental issues fall within the realm of the ASEAN Senior Officials of the Environment (ASOEN), which falls under the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Environment (AMME), and ultimately under the ASEAN Socio-Cultural pillar. ASOEN has three working groups to carry out its functions: Nature Conservation and Biodiversity, Coastal and Marine Environment, and Multilateral Environmental Agreement. The working groups are made up of concerned agencies from the member states. They meet annually to discuss and plan programs.


A number of the largest subsidizing developing fishing countries are members of ASEAN.6

During the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations, ASEAN countries took a position for the establishment of disciplines that would control harmful fisheries subsidies, but insisted that there should also be special and differential treatment provisions for developing countries. However, some ASEAN countries individually were active proponents for ambitious reforms in the WTO negotiations.

Overall, ASEAN appears to have limited interest and/or scope to address fisheries subsidies reform.

What could the ASEAN produce/do on fisheries subsidies?

It seems unlikely that ASEAN will become a leader in reforming fisheries subsidies on its own, and civil society’s ability to change this is limited by the informal structure of this group, its stated desire not to interfere in national affairs, and the internal nature of its decision-making process. Efforts could be focused on ensuring that SEAFDEC keeps producing materials on the negative impacts of harmful fisheries subsidies, which will help raise awareness and potentially spur action by ASEAN members. Similar efforts at APEC, IOTC, and WCPFC could also help with this process.

As a trade initiative, the RCEP could be an opportunity to address fisheries subsidies though trade rules and disciplines, commitments, and/or other measures.

The following are some other activities ASEAN could undertake:

  • ASEAN could provide technical assistance, policy guidance, and research about fisheries and subsidies in cooperation with SEAFDEC.
  • ASEAN could make declarations or political-level commitments on addressing harmful fisheries subsidies. More rigorous arrangements and commitments could potentially be established as part of the informal consultations that occur within the organization.


ASEAN Secretariat
Jl. Sisingamangaraja
70A Jakarta 12110

Tel: +62 21 7262991 or +62 21 7243372
Fax: +62 21 7398234 or +62 21 7243504

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