| MERCOSUR AT A CROSSROADS?
Suggestions for a necessary debate aimed at concerting a feasible future
by Félix Peña
English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza
Since overcoming the hypothesis of permanent conflict
between Argentina and Brazil, following the signing, in October 1979,
of the tripartite agreement on shared water resources, the two countries
started to explore a positive phase in their relationship. This has manifested
in the bilateral economic and political dimension but also in the consultation
and concertation regarding the relations with the region and in the approach
to some of the main issues of their global international relations. This
positive phase first led, in 1986, to the launch of PICE, then to the
Bilateral Treaty of Economic Integration, signed in 1988 and later, in
1990, to the ACE 14 within the scope of LAIA. Finally it led to the creation
of Mercosur in 1991, with the addition of Paraguay and Uruguay at the
founding moment and later of Venezuela and Bolivia, whose incorporation
processes have not been concluded yet.
After more than thirty years since the beginning of
this journey, which would be difficult to describe as linear or devoid
of any uncertainties and temptations, it appears that today its main institutional
expression is the subject of strong criticism and controversy, at least
within some of the member countries. Mercosur is at a crossroads that,
at times, would seem to have an existential and not just methodological
dimension. This would need to be addressed through a discussion of the
options for its future and which would be the costs of backtracking. It
should not be limited to the government level but it would require the
active participation of all sectors of society -including of course the
business sector- and multidimensional and trans disciplinary approaches.
The following are some suggestions that would help
foster a debate on the future of the relations between Argentina and Brazil
and, within this bilateral framework, of Mercosur: how to preserve a space
of economic preferences aimed at developing the productive integration
and competitive insertion of local businesses both regionally and globally?
How to reconcile such preferential space with the requirements of the
potential agenda of trade negotiations of the two countries and their
partners with other countries and regions? And how to articulate the construction
of a preferential space and a sustainable strategic relationship with
the initiatives that are developing between other countries of the region
such as those related with the Pacific Alliance and ALBA?
In October 1979, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay concluded a tripartite
agreement for the compatibility of hydroelectric projects on shared rivers.
This tripartite agreement implied a significant change in the way that
Argentina and Brazil addressed their mutual relationship and how it was
perceived by the public opinion in each country. As was noted shortly
thereafter by Oscar Camilión -then Argentine Ambassador in Brasilia
and a great advocate, since the time of his collaboration with Arturo
Frondizi, of a close strategic relationship between Argentina and Brazil,
idea that he shared, among others, with Ambassador Carlos Manuel Muniz-
the tripartite agreement meant overcoming the hypothesis of permanent
conflict that had previously been the starting point in all argumentation
regarding mutual relations, and its replacement by the logic of cooperation
for the common good, not only bilateral but regional (see Revista Brasileira
de Política Internacional - Brasil-Argentina, Year XXIV, 93-96,
1981, on "O Encontro de Buenos Aires: Um fato político de
conteúdo académico", with contributions referring to
the meeting organized by the CARI and FGV in BsAs on 1981 and, particularly,
our article on the future of the relations between Argentina and Brazil,
p.144 and subsq.).
In fact, since the moment they overcame the hypothesis of permanent conflict
the two countries began to explore a positive phase in their relationship
that, beyond ups and downs and reciprocal mood swings, has manifested
in concrete facts in the bilateral economic and political fronts and also
in the consultation and coordination regarding the relations with the
region and in the approach to some of the main problems that both countries
have faced in their global international relations.
This resulted in what can be considered the most fundamental contribution
of the two countries towards the construction of a region characterized
by peace and political stability, which was the dismantling, through specific
agreements, of the collision course that had been developing in the nuclear
field. This is one of the main public goods that resulted from the abandonment
of the scenario of permanent conflict. Preserving this achievement is
today one of the main priorities that nobody seems to dispute.
This positive phase resulted in the launch of the Program of Integration
and Cooperation between Argentina and Brazil (PICE) in 1986, the Bilateral
Treaty of Economic Integration, signed in 1988, and later the Economic
Complementation Agreement, ACE 14, of 1990 within the scope of the LAIA
(both still in force). Finally, it led to the creation of Mercosur in
1991, with the initial incorporation of Paraguay and Uruguay at the time
of its founding and later of Venezuela and Bolivia, although the incorporation
of the latter countries has not been yet fully completed. Together, all
these commitments constitute the main core of a network of institutions
and ground rules that support a strategic relationship with a clear South
American projection. In any approach that transcends the purely commercial
aspect they can be recognized as a valuable contribution to regional governance.
More than thirty years into a path that would be difficult to describe
as linear or devoid of uncertainties and temptations, Mercosur, conceived
as the current main institutional expression of this process -and even
its symbol in the eyes of the respective citizenships and of the rest
of the world- would seem to be facing strong criticism, not always sufficiently
substantiated, even when considering its actual impact on reciprocal trade.
In this regard we should note that, from the point of view of many analysts
and relevant actors, Mercosur would currently be at a crossroads (in the
sense of confronting "an array of options where the choice is uncertain";
in relation to this see http://www.wordreference.com/),
that sometimes would seem to have an existential dimension (why work together?)
and not just a methodological one (how to work together?).
It is a crossroads that would need to be addressed through a frank and
open discussion on the options for its future but also on the costs of
backtracking. And it is a debate that should not be confined solely to
the government level. On the contrary, it would require an active participation
of all sectors of society -including of course the business sector- and
the use of multidimensional and trans disciplinary approaches. It could
not be successfully addressed if it was limited, for example, to the economic
and trade dimension, such as it would seem to be the tendency of many
The background of this debate cannot be ignored. We are referring to
the idea that many analysts have raised recently regarding the trend towards
global turmoil, with its multiple and complex expressions such as the
current confrontations in the Middle East and in the Euro-Asian space,
with the epicenter in the crisis originated in Crimea and also involving
Ukraine (see the last book by Henry Kissinger and the recent articles
by Ian Bremmer and Javier Solanas included in the Recommended Reading
Section of this Newsletter). These processes are currently in full development
and their future projections are still uncertain, which strongly reminds
us of what was pointed out, among others, by Dominique Mosi in his book
"La Géopolitique de l´Émotion" (Flammarion,
Paris 2008) and by Bertrand Badie in his latest book "Le Temp des
Humiliés. Pathotologie des Relations Internationales" (Odile
Jacob, Paris 2014).
Notwithstanding any other that may be considered relevant, the following
are some suggested questions to include in the necessary debate. The answers
to these questions should eventually drive an agenda on the future of
the relations between Argentina and Brazil and, within this bilateral
framework, of Mercosur, that helps to continue capitalizing on what has
been achieved in thirty years of joint work:
- How to preserve the effectiveness and efficiency of a space of economic
and trade preferences that also entails an incentive for shared productive
development, at least in the favored sectors, as well as in the regional
and global competitive insertion of businesses?
- How to stimulate the development of productive linkages that are sustainable,
as well as other forms of cooperation, especially in the field of science
and technological innovation?
- How to open new areas of joint action, for example in terms of energy
sources and hydrocarbons, production and commercialization of food,
and the use of the abundant natural resources?
- How to create conditions that encourage connectivity between the different
national economic areas, especially through the development of physical
infrastructure and trade facilitation agendas?
- How to facilitate an effective participation of civil society, particularly
the youth, in the construction of a regional space that has an identity
of its own and that provides future horizons for its citizens?
- How to reconcile a joint preferential commercial space with the requirements
of the potential trade negotiation agendas that each of the two countries
and their partners could eventually develop with other countries and
- How to articulate the construction of a preferential economic space
between the partners and a strategic relationship that endures over
time with the actions that are being developed or attempted between
other countries in the region, such as the Pacific Alliance and ALBA?
In this context, some of the following issues deserve particular attention.
- The erosion of the economic preferences agreed in the Treaty of Asuncion
of 1991 that could result from the proposals that are being developed
in order to allow Mercosur countries that, due to their national interests,
wish to sign other preferential trade agreements with third countries
- The requirements for modifications of existing legal instruments within
the scope of Mercosur, in the event that one or more members wished
to undertake bilateral negotiations with other countries or regions.
In that case, would it be enough to amend Decision 32/00, as has been
maintained? or would it be necessary to renegotiate the Treaty of Asuncion
itself, given that the preferences there agreed involved the adoption
and implementation of a common external tariff and, thus, trading as
a group with other countries or regions, as has been attempted with
the EU without much success and not just for reasons attributable to
Mercosur or any of its member countries?
- The practical modalities that would allow threading a strategy of
"convergence in diversity", recently proposed by the government
of Chile, as a way to overcome trends towards divergent approaches between
the integration spaces embodied in Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance.
- The participation of the countries of Mercosur and the region in the
formulation of the proposals that some of the member countries could
raise in the global forums in which they participate, as in the case
of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico within the ambit of G20.
- The possibility of addressing joint programs of regional scope that
facilitate the development of a common identity and greater mutual understanding,
as could be a strictly regional version of the Erasmus program successfully
developed within the sphere of the EU.
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vizinhos. Comercio e acordos regionais", IPEA, Brasilia 2014. Ver
texto digital en: http://www.ipea.gov.br/.
- Bremmer, Ian, "Hacia un nuevo desorden mundial", en el diario
"El País" de Madrid del viernes 26 de septiembre 2014,
página 25, ver en: http://elpais.com/.
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Argentina, Brasil y Chile en el Tiempo Democrático", Consejo
Argentino para las Relaciones Internacionales -CARI-, Buenos Aires 2014.
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an Emerging Global Power. In Search of the Brazil Dream", International
Political Economy Series, Palgrave MacMillan, London 2014.
- ESPRIT, "Le nouveau désordre mondial", Revue International
N° 407, Paris, Août-Septembre 2014
- Ferrer, Aldo, "El empresario argentino", Capital Intelectual,
Buenos Aires 2014.
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Pacífico: en el proceso de integración latinoamericana",
Corporación de Estudios para Latinoamérica (CIEPLAN) -
BID, Santiago de Chile, marzo de 2014. Ver la versión digital
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Press, Oxford - New York 2012.
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Run -or Ruin- an Economy", Riverhead Books, New York 2014.
- Kissinger, Henry, "World Order", Penguin Press, New York
- Levi Coral, Michel (editor), "La Unión Europea y América
Latina. Relaciones entre bloques regionales e integración regional",
Centro Andino de Estudios Internacionales, Universidad Andina Simón
Bolivar, Corporación Editora Nacional, Quito 2014.
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vizinhos. Investimento direto estrangeiro", IPEA, Brasilia 2014.
Ver texto digital completo en: http://www.ipea.gov.br/.
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& Schuster, New York 2014.
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la Universidad Nacional del Lanús, Remedios de Escalada (Lanús)
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de mercancías", Organización Mundial del Comercio
(OMC), Informe del Grupo Especial, WT/DS438/R; WT/DS444/R; WT/DS445/R,
Ginebra 22 de agosto de 2014, en: http://www.wto.org/.
- Padilla Pérez, Ramón (Editor), "Strengthening value
chains as an industrial policy instrument. Methodology and experience
of ECLAC in Central America", ECLAC - German Cooperation, Santiago
de Chile, July 2014.
- Peña, Félix, "Las metodologías de la integración
regional y la nueva realidad global: el caso latinoamericano",
en Levi Coral, Michel (editor), "La Unión Europea y América
Latina. Relaciones entre bloques regionales e integración regional",
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Bolivar, Corporación Editora Nacional, Quito 2014, páginas
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- Priestland, David, "Merchant, Soldier, Sage", Penguin Books,
New York 2014.
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Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2014.
- Solana, Javier, "La vuelta a un mundo que nunca existió",
en el diario "El País" de Madrid del martes 23 de septiembre
de 2014, página 25, ver en: http://elpais.com/.
- UNCTAD, "Trade and Development Report - 2014", UNCTAD, Ginebra,
10 September 2014, en: http://unctad.org/.
Félix Peña Director
of the Institute of International Trade at the ICBC 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