Abstract: This article reassesses the trade–development nexus in international economic law and provides the first examination of the approach to realize the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through regional integration. It argues that the emerging New Regional Economic Order in the multipolar system will fortify the coalition of developing countries in structuring the legalization of pro-development trade policy. For decades, the misconceived concept of special and differential treatment has ignored the reality of the North–South Grand Bargain and disconnected the World Trade Organization from its development objectives. The development crisis of the Doha Round requires a feasible “Plan B” for the Global South.
By making interrelated theoretical and substantive claims, this article opens an inquiry into the assertive role of developing countries that prompted the paradigm shift in Asia–Pacific regionalism. The realist and dependency theories are utilized to decipher the geopolitical complexity of the rapidly evolving South–South free trade agreements. As a timely case study, the analysis is based on the creation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Economic Community and its implications for economic powers such as the United States and China. It provides an account of the bloc’s services trade-oriented development policy under the balance of power strategy. Finally, this article offers regulatory reform proposals on how to integrate development assistance and remove trade barriers. Transnational legal harmonization and human rights protection in line with international labor principles are also indispensable. Such reforms will strengthen the best practices for global regionalism and reinvigorate the trade–development connection in the multilateral trading system.