| CONDITIONS FOR AN EFFECTIVE REGIONALISM:
What lessons can be learned from the experience accumulated by Mercosur?
by Félix Peña
English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza
Its revalorization for the construction of a solid
foundation for effective global governance that can be sustainable in
time, updates the issue of how to achieve a global and efficient regionalism.
This is a topic that becomes current due to the fact that, sometimes,
the actions and agreements of regional or inter-regional scope, given
the case, lose relevance with the passing of time. They even reflect a
trend to generate media events by governments which, even when deemed
historic, are not always materialized or fail to produce the anticipated
Latin America is a geographical space with a wealth of experiences, actions,
strategies, institutions and regional agreements of different kind and
scope. These present an abundance of diversity and overlapping, sometimes
only apparent, of functions and objectives. Even when they respond to
realities and have an underlying logic, this institutional patchwork is
not easy to understand from outside the region.
Regionalism in Latin American countries has also numerous
expressions of inter-regional scope which conform, in practice, a wide
global network with different intensities.
Mercosur is one of the main expressions of Latin American
regionalism. Much has been written about its trajectory and real results.
In recent times, the debate over its effectiveness and efficacy has reemerged.
This debate has been encouraged by President José Mujica, among
others, who, from his Uruguayan perspective, has pointed out the shortcomings
and flaws of Mercosur which would be convenient to discuss, confront and
A debate over the institutional quality of Mercosur
could be furthered if some valid issues to assess the effectiveness and
efficacy of any regional or inter-regional agreement were identified.
Particularly when they have political objectives aimed at facilitating
the governance of a regional geographic space through the construction
of a thick web of social networks of all kinds, for which purpose ground
rules and symbols to help identify citizenship with a common project are
Given the dominant trends in the world scenario, including
those that lead to revalue a "revamped" regionalism as a condition
for global governance, it would seem opportune to follow President Mujica
lead by undertaking a sincere and wide-ranging multidimensional debate
on the future of Mercosur.
Regionalism in its different variations -on degrees of institutionalization
and on emphasis in the geopolitical and/or the economic-commercial- is
being actualized. This is helped by the deep changes that are taking place
at the international level and the evident difficulties in putting together
actions that are aimed at furthering the existing global agreements and
institutions or at redesigning them, when necessary. (See the article
by Ian Brenner listed as recommended reading of this newsletter and the
report by the Global Agenda Council on Geopolitical Risk of World Economic
Forum on http://www3.weforum.org/).
These are changes that have a bearing on the distribution of relative
power among nations and on the growing economic convergence that has been
noted by Giovanni Arrighi (see the reference to his book in the recommended
reading section of this newsletter) and by Michael Spence (see the reference
to his recent book in the recommended reading section of the November
2011 edition of this newsletter), among other authors. These changes also
relate to the greater physical, economic and even cultural connectivity
between the different sovereign territories, sometimes far removed from
each other; to the redefinition of what exerting sovereignty in a national
geographic space implies; to the multiple modalities of integration of
the transnational value chains and, in particular, to the awareness by
many of the stakeholders (countries, social organizations and people)
that they now hold the power and that they are ready to use it.
The difficulties are evinced, for example, by the stagnation -or should
we say hibernation? - of the Doha Round within the World Trade Organization
(WTO). This was made clear in the last Ministerial Conference, which met
in Geneva last December (see the January 2012 edition of this newsletter),
as well as in the panel on global trade and international trade negotiations
organized by the World Economic Forum of Davos, on Saturday 28 January,
2012 (see http://www.weforum.org/)-.
It is also made evident by the perception that the G20, even when playing
a useful role in the collective management of the current international
financial crisis, is not fully regarded as an efficient mechanism for
the construction of a new and necessary architecture of global governance
-at least in the economic and international trade fields.
The revalorization of regionalism, even as a way of building a solid
foundation for efficient global governance that is sustainable in time,
updates the issue of how to make it effective, i.e. that it is able to
penetrate reality. This is an issue that becomes more current in view
of the fact that, sometimes, actions and agreements of regional or inter-regional
scope, given the case, fail to go beyond the short or medium term. On
the contrary, they may reflect a trend to generate media impact by the
corresponding governments and, even when their historical relevance is
proclaimed, they ultimately fail to be consummated or produce the announced
results. Other times they lose their initial momentum after a first period
of enthusiasm and relative effectiveness. There are some cases in which
a regional agreement remains suspended in some kind of limbo, as if it
were a "sleeper cell", and notwithstanding awakens and updates
its validity as a response to the changes in circumstances. The Arab League
has recently been cited as an example of this due to its role in the Libyan
and Syrian crises (see the article by Ian Bremmer listed as recommended
reading in this newsletter).
Latin America is a geographical space with a wealth of experiences, actions,
strategies, institutions and regional agreements of very different type
and scope. In recent times, the trend towards regional agreements has
intensified through the creation of the Union of South American Nations
and most recently of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States
They represent a picture full of diversities and of apparent overlapping
of functions and objectives. Even when they are a response to concrete
historic realities with an underlying logic, this institutional patchwork
is not always well understood from outside the region. (On this regard,
refer to the article by Michael Shifter listed in the recommended reading
section of this newsletter).
In Latin America, regionalism also has numerous expressions of inter-regional
scope which implies, in practice, a global network with different intensities.
Among other aspects it manifests through several bilateral agreements
that countries such as, for example, Chile and Peru have signed with countries
in Asia and the Pacific; in the participation in relevant inter-regional
forums such as that of the APEC; or in agreements currently under negotiation
such as the Transpacific Partnership (TPP). It manifests in particular
in the relations with the US and Canada, within the Inter American system,
as well as in the deeply rooted historical relations with the nations
of the European geographic space that have translated into a dense fabric
of actions and bilateral agreements and, increasingly in later years,
bi-regional agreements. It has also had a relevant expression in the Ibero-American
front with the yearly summits and the intense action of the General Ibero-American
Secretariat in charge of Enrique Iglesias.
The Inter-American, the bi-regional involving Europe and the Ibero-American
ambits seem to require much re-engineering for their adaptation to the
new regional and international realities. The upcoming presidential summits
-the Sixth Summit of the Americas to be held in Cartagena, Colombia, in
April of this year (http://www.summit-americas.org/);
the 18th Ibero-American Summit, that will take place in Cadiz, Spain,
next October (http://www.cadiz2012.es/cumbre.asp),
and the EU-CELAC Summit, that will meet in Santiago de Chile in January,
2013- may provide an opportunity to "re-tune" (as per the well-chosen
expression used by Francesc Castells in the article listed as recommended
reading of this newsletter) the relations, expectations and aspirations
of the participating countries.
Mercosur is one of the main manifestations of Latin American regionalism.
Much has been written on its trajectory and efficacy (refer to our article,
listed as recommended reading, based on a presentation for the Global
Governance Programme, Robert Schumann Centre for Advanced Studies, European
University Institute, of Florence, Italy). In recent times, the debate
over the effectiveness and efficacy of Mercosur has been updated. This
has been promoted by President José Mujica, among others, who from
his Uruguayan perspective pointed out the shortcomings and flaws of Mercosur
that should be discussed, confronted and overcome. As all good political
leaders, he has the ability to summarize in short phrases the essence
of a message directed to citizens and not exclusively to leaders or experts.
On one occasion he remarked that Mercosur was "lame and reduced to
misery". More recently, in an interview for the weekly Búsqueda,
of Montevideo (February 9, 2012) he said that Mercosur existed in reality
but that from the legal point of view it had been "made into a chewing
gum". He was resuming in this way what he had expressed some time
before in reference to the fact that Mercosur was deadlocked and that
had a problem of "institutional quality" (in an interview published
by the newspaper Folha de Sâo Paulo, on 29 January, 2012; see as
well the piece by Flavio González entitled "El Mercosur estancado"
on page 37 of Clarín newspaper of 4 February, 2012). This is an
issue that was later picked up by Chancellor Luis Almagro when, on a recent
meeting at the Chamber of Deputies of Uruguay, he pointed out, among other
things, that the mechanism for the resolution of disputes was Mercosur's
weak point given that there are no legal or economic incentives to comply
with what is agreed. (See Infobae.com from 9 February, 2012).
The current debate on Mercosur's institutional quality could be furthered
in the measure that some valid issues to assess the effectiveness and
efficacy of any regional or inter-regional agreement are identified. Particularly
when there are political objectives aimed at facilitating the governance
of a regional geographic space through the construction of a dense weave
of social networks of every kind, for which purpose ground rules to turn
the conditions for productive investment more predictable and symbols
to identify citizens with a common project are created.
In our opinion, Mercosur's own experience -but also that of other regions
including, of course, the European Union- helps us identify at least three
necessary questions, without dismissing others or the possible unfolding
that could result from each one of them.
Such questions are: How to generate a stable scenario for mutual gain
between the member countries, given the existing differences -sometimes
very pronounced- in relative power and level of economic development?
How to adopt common decisions that are materialized in effective ground
rules that penetrate reality and produce the desired results, and that
have sufficient social legitimacy as a result of the right degree of transparency
and citizen participation present during their creation? And finally:
How to reconcile a strategic and preferential relation between countries
that, at the same time, may aspire to develop strategies of multiple alliances
with other nations as a consequence of the new international realities
and of global economic competition?
Given the dominant trends in the world scenario, including those that
lead to a revalorization and at the same time a re-evaluation of regionalism
as a condition for global governance, it would seem opportune to respond
to the incentives introduced by President Pepe Mujica by undertaking a
multidimensional debate on the future of Mercosur, with an ample participation
of the citizenship. This debate could focus, for example, on the questions
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Félix Peña Director
of the Institute of International Trade at the Standard Bank Foundation.
Director of the Masters Degree in International Trade Relations at Tres
de Febrero National University (UNTREF). Member of the Executive Committee
of the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI). Member of
the Evian Group Brains Trust. More