HOW much of a difference will the Asean Economic Community (AEC) make to Thailand when it comes into being in late 2015? That’s a question so huge and all-embracing, it’s very tempting to suggest that no one really knows. As a free trade zone within the Asean member countries, it is expected to result in the free mobility of services, investments, capitalization and skilled labour. That’s the theory, but like the EU after which it is fashioned, it may not pan out quite so wonderfully in practice. In Europe, each country has always been able to impose its own rules and domestic taxes (look at the way France bans non-French ski instructors in its resorts, and the UK levies taxes on wine and spirits that are so high, Britons in their thousands cross the Channel daily to buy cheaper products in France, including English beer!). And there’s every reason to believe that AEC members will do the same, restricting goods, services and labour, whenever it suits them. The cultural and economic differences across the countries of Asean are so vast that it is extremely unlikely that any one of them will simply fling open their doors to outsiders. True, masses of Germans haven’t moved to France, Britons to Spain and so on, but with (mostly) free labour mobility in AEC, it is quite feasible that the already substantial flow of Burmese, Laotians, Cambodians and even Filipinos into Thailand could become a torrent. And that may not be welcomed by ordinary Thais.