Notwithstanding their traditional attachment to sovereignty, Southeast and East Asian countries have embraced a dynamic agenda of labour mobility liberalisation through trade agreements. This article assesses the free movement agenda within ASEAN from a multi-level perspective, comparing it to ASEAN countries’ corresponding commitments within the World Trade Organisation’s General Agreement on Trade in Services and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) concluded as a group or individually with non-ASEAN countries. Contrary to other trade aspects it turns out that intra-regional commitments within ASEAN do not significantly exceed multilateral ones, and score below the level of liberalisation achieved in ASEAN+ and bilateral FTAs. This article interprets this discrepancy as a consequence of strong economic and labour market differences among ASEAN members as well as the lower sensitivity of allegedly technocratic FTAs for considerations of national sovereignty. The article concludes with the limits of this trade policy approach for migration governance and migrants’ rights.
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