Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
: The Road to ASEAN membership

  • Salvador G De Jesus Soares

Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


The primary aim of this study is to examine the ambition of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste to become a member of the Association of South-East Asia Nations (ASEAN). The main reason for Timor-Leste seeking to join ASEAN is to develop its economy, which it has endeavoured to do since restoration of its independence in 2002. However, there are challenges obstructing its membership ambitions. Those challenges are closely consequential and interdependent. One set of challenges relate to internal and statutory and regulatory frameworks and infrastructures within its governmental and commercial environments which are subject to ASEAN assessment for membership.

This study includes assessment and examination of these frameworks to determine what Timor-Leste has achieved, and has yet to yet to achieve, to meet ASEAN, and particularly ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) requirements in respect of membership. The study determines the alignment of its legal and regulatory frameworks with AEC’s legal instruments in order to support the implementation of reform to meet AEC requirements and thus ASEAN’s membership requirements. It also suggests solutions or strategies that might be necessary or desirable to achieve the main objective of joining ASEAN.

The AEC pillar is very important for the admission of a new member, and particularly for Timor-Leste’s bid, because the standards represented by this pillar and its agenda for economic integration have been pushed strongly by some ASEAN members. Furthermore, they suggest that implementation of this pillar is becoming the reason for Timor-Leste’s bid for membership continuing to stall due to views that Timor-Leste will complicate the AEC completion and jeopardize regional economic integration.

A second set of challenges is fundamentally external and relates to ASEAN’s formal requirements for accession to membership as stipulated in Article 6 of the ASEAN Charter 2007, and particularly Article 6(2)(d) requirements of a comprehensive economic and trade-related legal and regulatory framework as arguably the major important criterion to join ASEAN, and the most difficult to meet.

The study examines the proposition that some ASEAN member states have concerns over Timor-Leste’s ability to meet its ASEAN obligations, due to their perception of the country's lack of or inadequacy in respect of commerce and trade activity and capacity, institutional infrastructures, legal frameworks and human resources. It is represented by the responses of some ASEAN members toward Timor-Leste’s membership application. This raises questions on why Timor-Leste’s accession process appears to be taking so long when compared to the accession process for the other non-original members, namely, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar, also known as the CLMV countries.

A number of studies have been conducted regarding the accession of a least-developed country to an international organisation, but these studies do not really address in depth Timor-Leste’s situation and circumstances as a least developed and post-conflict country. Hence there is a knowledge gap that this study endeavours to address and thereby provide an original contribution to knowledge. The study also represents the first detailed academic investigation and analysis on the capacity and readiness of Timor-Leste for integration into ASEAN. As such, it is hoped that the study will also contribute to the development of Timor-Leste’s legislative and institutional frameworks for the conduct of its regional and international commerce and trade legislative frameworks and serve as a reference for the country’s government departments responsible for preparing such frameworks. It is hoped that such research will also be useful in its application within decision-making levels within the Timor-Leste Government.

Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDavid Price (Supervisor)

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