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  Félix Peña

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  2 de marzo de 2011
Mercosur, twenty years later


English version of the article published by "El Cronista", Buenos Aires, March 2nd, 2011.

This month Mercosur celebrates its twentieth anniversary. This is an opportunity to reflect on its future development in the light of the accumulated experience. On this regard, there are three main considerations to give thought to.

The first is related with the significant changes in circumstances and needs that have taken place since the Treaty of Asuncion was signed on March 26, 1991. At the beginning of the nineties the situation was a result, among other factors, of the multiple impacts derived from the end of the Cold War, of the US initiative to promote a hemispheric free trade area and of the relative stagnation of the bilateral integration methodology between Argentina and Brazil. The most important needs at the time were to compete against the Eastern European countries to attract productive investments, to gather the sufficient negotiating critical mass to face the American decision of having a strong trade presence in South America, and to strengthen the strategic alliance crafted by Alfonsin and Sarney. Additionally, these circumstances and needs should be viewed in the perspective of the complex internal political and economic situation that characterized the realities of Argentina and Brazil at the time.

Nowadays, circumstances and needs are quite different. The world has become increasingly multipolar and all countries - including those of Mercosur, whatever their economic dimension- have multiple options for their insertion in global economic competition. The focus of attention is no longer placed only in Washington or certain European capitals. The shifts in relative economic power between nations and the growing protagonism of Asian countries in word trade and in international investments open up a scenario of great opportunities but also of great challenges for Mercosur countries. These possess -among many other qualities that make them attractive- an enormous potential for the production of food, even for those dubbed "smart" or "green" foods. The current needs involve profiting from such opportunities by crafting a grid of cross alliances and variable geometry with all the possible countries and by developing production and distribution networks of regional and global scope.

The second consideration relates to the validity of the strategic idea that drives the construction of Mercosur. This is grounded in a hard core quality bilateral relation between Argentina and Brazil. It is based in mutual trust, with a particular emphasis on nuclear cooperation. Its scope is neither exclusive nor excluding, though it does have a South American projection. It implies predictable economic preferences that motivate a productive integration for the mutual gain and a weave of different kinds of transborder social networks that, due to their density, generate in actual fact solidarities that are difficult to untie. It constitutes a strategic idea that, in its essence, continues to be valid for governments and citizens. Or that at the very least reflects a consciousness on the lack of other feasible alternative strategies between nations that share a same regional geographic space, particularly taking into account the possible political costs.

Finally, the third consideration refers to the methodology for joint work between the member countries. Much has been learnt in terms of cooperation at the different levels during the last years. The results have been plenty. It would now be convenient to capitalize on the experiences and accumulated assets. The stock of trade preferences and the network of cross interests are not facts to be overlooked. The automotive sector offers but one example of this.

Moving forward, there are three relevant methodological aspects to be considered. The first would be to get rid of rigid formulas inspired in theories or in models from other regions. In the gradual construction of the customs union, the main factors to take into account are WTO regulations and the respective national interests. The second aspect would be to favor the idea of having few rules that are effectively observed and that are flexible enough to be adapted to the changing realities. The third aspect would be to strengthen decision-making mechanisms that enable to reach real commitments for productive integration, to effectively and pragmatically tackle negotiations with third countries and to face the multiple social effects of the commitments resulting from integration.

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 information. |

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