| THE RECYCLYING OF A STRATEGIC IDEA?
The tasks arising from the last Mercosur Summit in Asuncion.
by Félix Peña
English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza
It is a fact that, along its journey, the image and
attractiveness of Mercosur have deteriorated greatly. This is the reason
why by the end of 2015, when the last Mercosur Summit was about to take
place in Asuncion, it was difficult to make an optimistic forecast about
The results of the Summit of Asuncion reflect a political
will to recycle Mercosur. To recycle it in the sense of giving new impulse
and providing new approaches to the construction of the space of integration,
in line with past experience and the profound changes that have taken
place in relation to the context of the founding moment, twenty-five years
We can highlight three of the several aspects where
there is a political will to recycle the common regional project.
The first has to do with the legal quality of the
commitments that have been taken on or that are assumed in the future.
Legal quality appreciated for its political and economic value, whether
due to the effect that the compliance with what is agreed has to guarantee
the interests of all member countries, irrespective of their size and
their relative power, or due to the capacity to generate a scenario of
predictability that encourages productive investment.
The second aspect relates to working on the consolidation
of three necessary conditions for the construction of a space for joint
work between nations sharing a regional space. We are referring to the
physical connectivity and the connectivity of national production systems;
the compatibility between development strategies and the economic policies
applied, and the convergence of strategies and policies towards common
And the third aspect refers to Mercosur's trade relations
with third countries. Among others, in the first half of this year the
three main external fronts will be with the EU, the countries of the Pacific
Alliance and China.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri participated for
the first time in the Summit of Asuncion. Four issues were central to
his presentation: the value of Mercosur as a strategic project; the necessary
combination of flexibility and predictability in its development; the
importance of moving forward in the relations with the EU and with the
countries of the Pacific Alliance, and the respect for human rights in
Mercosur countries, such as provided by the Asuncion Protocol of 2005.
March 26 marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Asuncion Treaty
which created the Mercosur. It meant a step forward in the evolution of
the integration process of the region, such as was at the time the Declaration
of Foz de Iguazu, whose 30 years were commemorated on last November 30,
and which preceded the founding agreements of integration between Argentina
and Brazil, including the Treaty of Integration, Cooperation and Development,
still in force (see the full text on http://infoleg.mecon.gov.ar/).
They are landmarks that prompt reflection on the road already traveled
and on the road that lies ahead in the near future. They remind us that
the construction of an integration space between sovereign nations -which
do not necessarily aspire to stop being so as a result of the joint work
- develops through a series of steps that are not always systematic and
linear and that are usually erratic and fragile. Interestingly, Europeans
have also become more aware that what is important when building an integration
and cooperation space -as opposed to spaces of fragmentation and confrontation
among neighboring nations - is to preserve the political vision by translating
it into a strategic long-term vision, while adapting the course and the
concrete steps to the realities and to collective learning. (In this regard,
see the book by Luuk van Midderlaar, "The Passage to Europe"
Yale University Press, 2013). This is precisely the contribution that
may result from political leaderships that are, at the same time, convincing
and firm in their objectives and flexible in their instrumentation.
In fact, along its journey, the image and attractiveness of Mercosur
have deteriorated greatly. From the euphoria and triumphalism of the time
of its founding it went to the current disenchantment (see the January
2014 issue of this newsletter on http://www.felixpena.com.ar/). Pepe
Mujica, President of Uruguay, described the situation bluntly: "Mercosur
is lame and in misery". It is possible that he may have exaggerated
to provoke reactions. But the truth is that, even when there were reactions,
they failed to translate into effective and efficient initiatives aimed
at actually giving a new boost to the construction of the Mercosur space.
Often, the initiatives announced had a tendency to "play for the
crowd" and therefore seemed to be more aimed at making newspaper
headlines the day after the Summits than at having an impact on reality.
That is why by the end of 2015, on the eve of the last Summit in Asuncion,
it was difficult to make an optimistic forecast about the future evolution
of Mercosur. A turning point, however, had begun with the meeting of the
presidents of Uruguay and Paraguay on June 25 (for the joint statement
of the presidents, go to http://medios.presidencia.gub.uy/).
On that occasion, the joint statement of the two leaders made an explicit
reference to the willingness to work together in order to undertake, along
with the other Mercosur partners, an action plan for achieving the objectives
of Mercosur and perfecting the free trade zone. The aim was to address
some of the main entanglements that have weakened the construction of
a regional space of integration. This was the focus of the action of Paraguay's
effective Pro-tempore presidency during the second half of 2015. Hence,
the main results obtained involve addressing these obstacles, though if
not always indicating how to solve them, at least expressing the will
to work towards that purpose.
The results of the recent Summit of Asunción reflect a political
will to recycle Mercosur. To recycle it in the sense of giving new impetus
to the construction of the space of integration, in line with past experience
and the profound changes that have taken place in relation to the context
of the founding moment, twenty-five years ago.
Some events that were almost simultaneous with the Summit of Asuncion
help illustrate, along with many others, the deep contextual changes that
have taken place since the creation of Mercosur.
One of these events was the WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi. Its
results are indicating if not the formal end of the Doha Round at least
its temporary demise. This fact can raise strong doubts about the vitality
of the multilateral trading system institutionalized in the WTO, at least
in terms of the objectives and principles that originated it twenty years
ago. (On the results of the Ministerial Conference of Nairobi, Kenya,
The other event was the Paris Conference on climate change, which had
better results than those that had been anticipated before its realization
(on the results of this Conference see the article published in the newspaper
El Pais, Madrid, http://internacional.elpais.com/,
including a link to the text of the final declaration http://ep00.epimg.net/).
From what was agreed at the Summit of Asuncion, we can highlight three
of the several aspects where there is a political will to recycle the
common regional project. These are some of the issues on which the Mercosur
agenda will most likely focus during the first half of this year in which
Uruguay will hold the Pro-Tempore Presidency.
The first one has to do with the convenience of strengthening the legal
quality of the commitments that have been taken on, or those that are
assumed in the future. Legal quality appreciated for its political and
economic value, whether due to the political effect that compliance with
the agreements has to guarantee the interests of all member countries
-irrespective of their size and their relative power-, or due to the economic
effect of generating a scenario of predictability that encourages productive
At least two types of the pronouncements and decisions of the recent
Asuncion Summit reflect the intention of reverting the deterioration in
the image of Mercosur that has occurred as a consequence of the fact that
commitments have been complied with only "insofar as possible".
The first of these refers to the inventory of restrictions on reciprocal
trade arising from measures and practices of the member countries against
commitments formally undertaken. Even when a decision of the Mercosur
Council has been published in this regard, the same has not happened with
the inventory of restrictive measures elaborated by the Pro-Tempore Presidency
of Paraguay. (See the text of Decision CMC 23 on http://www.mercosur.int/).
The second refers to the commitments made in Mercosur regarding the exercise
of democracy and the respect for human rights (the corresponding texts
are on the website of the Mercosur, http://www.mercosur.int/ and with
regard to human rights on http://www.mercosur.int/).
The second aspect relates to working on the consolidation of the conditions
necessary to build, over time, a space of joint work between sovereign
nations that share a regional geographic area. These are the physical
connectivity and the connectivity of the national production systems;
the compatibility between development strategies and economic policies,
and the convergence of strategies and policies towards common objectives.
(In this regard refer to the August
2015 issue of this newsletter on http://www.felixpena.com.ar/). One
of the most appreciated examples of the value of these conditions is that
of the production chains developed in numerous sectors and, in particular,
in those sectors with greater potential to project to the world the ability
of Mercosur countries to produce goods and provide services.
And the third aspect refers to the development of economic relations
and trade negotiations between Mercosur and other countries and regions.
Of the semester that ended with the Summit of Asuncion, the priority given
to the negotiations with the EU stands out. The statement on the external
relations of Mercosur, approved in Asuncion, refers to such negotiations
in very clear terms: "The Presidents of the Members States (
remembered the importance of the conclusion of a bi-regional Association
Agreement between Mercosur and the European Union. They stressed that
Mercosur is ready to move forward and expressed the expectation that the
European side shows its readiness to make the exchange of offers for market
access, which would signal the beginning of a new and final phase of the
negotiations."(the translation is ours) (For the full text, go to
Notwithstanding others, the three main external negotiation fronts of
Mercosur will be:
- with the EU, mentioned above, and whose progress now depends of Brussels;
- the development of a strategy of convergence in diversity to link
more closely the spaces of Mercosur and of the Pacific Alliance within
the framework of the relations between Latin American countries and,
in particular, taking into account the convenience of helping to consolidate
the newly established relation between Cuba and the US (see the November
2015 issue of this newsletter on http://www.felixpena.com.ar/);
- the need to develop a preferential framework for the economic relations
between Mercosur and China, taking into account the proposal made at
the time by the former Prime Minister of the government of the People's
Republic of China, Wen Jiabao, for undertaking a feasibility study on
a free trade agreement (see the March
2015 issue of this newsletter on http://www.felixpena.com.ar/).
The newly elected Argentine President, Mauricio Macri, participated for
the first time in the Summit of Asuncion. In his speech, he advanced ideas
about his vision of Mercosur and about its priorities (see the text of
his speech on http://www.casarosada.gob.ar/).
There were four key issues in his presentation: the value of Mercosur
as a strategic project; the necessary combination of flexibility and predictability
in its development; the importance of advancing the negotiations and relations
with the EU and also with the countries of the Pacific Alliance, and the
respect for human rights in Mercosur countries, as provided in the Protocol
of Asuncion of June 2005. (For the full text of the Protocol, go to http://www.infoleg.gov.ar/).
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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