inicio | contacto | buscador | imprimir   
· Presentación
· Trayectoria
· Artículos y notas
· Newsletter (español)
· Newsletter (english)
· Radar Internacional
· Tesis de posgrado
· Programas de clase
· Sitios recomendados

· Las crisis en el multilateralismo y en los acuerdos regionales
· Argentina y Brasil en
el sistema de relaciones internacionales
· Momentos y Perspectivas

  Félix Peña

2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013
2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004
2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998 | 1997 | 1996 | 1995
1994 | 1993 | 1992 | 1991 | 1990 a 1968
  February 2015
Latin America, between convergence and fragmentation

By way of introduction [2]

In a world in transition to new patterns of global governance, Latin American countries are asking themselves how they can better share their strategies and actions in order to take full advantage of all the potential that the region has to achieve, in the perspective of each country's national interests, an active participation in trade, in investments and in transnational production linkages. They especially wonder about what their strategies for international trade negotiations should be so that they can help leverage and enhance the value of the region in the global space.

How to overcome possible tendencies towards the fragmentation of the region and how to achieve the convergence of their cooperation and integration efforts, from the recognition and appreciation of existing diversities, are some challenges that Latin America and the Caribbean face in the future. The options on how to achieve this are vast and this may contribute to flexible strategies adapted to different realities and needs.

In this perspective, the present work seeks to provide some elements for a necessary regional debate aimed at deepening a more effective coordination of efforts in terms of constructive joint action among Latin American countries


The institutional map of the region

In little more than fifty years, Latin American countries have created a significant amount of joint institutions aimed at promoting different modalities of articulation between the countries of the region, including those whose main objective has been to move towards deeper levels of economic integration with a multidimensional scope.

This has resulted in the institutional map that exists today. The main institutions generated in this period have had a diverse membership.

Some are of Latin American scope, such as, for example, the Latin American Integration Association -LAIA/ALADI- (, resulting from the transformation of the Latin American Free Trade Association -LAFTA -, of the Latin American Economic System -SELA- ( and, more recently, of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States - CELAC - ( .

Others are of South American scope, such as the case of the Union of South American Nations -UNASUR - (

And others are of subregional scope, such as the case of the Common Market of the South - Mercosur - (; the Central America Common Market, today the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration - SICA - ( and; and the Community of Andean Nations -CAN- (, formerly the Andean Group; the Caribbean Community - CARICOM - (; the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America - ALBA - ( and, more recently, the Pacific Alliance (

To these we should add those with specific functions, for example those related to development financing, such as the Andean Development Corporation - Latin American Development Bank - CAF- (; the Financial Fund for the Development of the River Plate Basin - FONPLATA - (; the Central American Bank for Economic Integration - BCIE - (, and the Caribbean Development Bank - CARIBANK - (

This institutional map developed throughout the years is varied, complex and heterogeneous. It encompasses institutional schemes with different degrees of relative evolution, geographic coverage, relevance and efficiency and with an apparent and sometimes real overlap in their goals, agendas and instruments.

But each of these institutions reflect different and concrete instances of the historical evolution of the idea of agreeing diverse forms of joint action among countries of the region. Moreover, they are part of the current reality, at least in formal terms.

However, these are institutions that, at times, seem not to be fully utilized by the countries that have created them. Or at least that is often the widespread image reflected in the public opinion. In some cases, their effectiveness and relative significance is sometimes put into question.

Attempting a complete redesign of this institutional map does not seem advisable or realistic, at least as a current priority. It would be costly in terms of resources, time and political energies. Moreover, it would not be easy to anticipate positive results. It seems more convenient, then, to guide the actions of the countries of the region towards the objective of better harnessing the existing institutional capacity, without prejudice to any action that may develop over time to adapt them to new realities and eventually upgrade their functions and working methods.


The rich Latin American diversity

As it stands, this institutional map reflects the rich diversity that has always characterized the region and that most likely will continue to characterize it in the future. In this regard, perhaps it has rightly been said that we can speak of multiple Latin Americas.

The existing diversities result mostly from history and, above all, from the geography of the region, characterized by significant physical distances that have hindered communication between countries -especially among the main urban centers-as well as by marked disparities and asymmetries in relative power and economic dimension. They are derived, as well, from the natural changes in priorities and preferences that often result from the political and economic development of the different countries of the region and the various subregions.

But in contrast with other regions of the world, these are not differences that originate in the fractures and confrontations that sometimes have dominated -in the past and also today-the relations between neighboring countries with difficult to manage conflicts, such as those arising from profound differences in the cultural, ethnic or religious and even the ideological. In such cases, a consequence of diversity can be fragmentation, which may even have violent connotations and result in armed conflicts. Aside from what our long history teaches us in this regard, it is also possible to illustrate this risk with what is currently happening in certain regions of the world.

That is not, nor has necessarily been, the case of Latin America or the South American space, where often the major conflicts between countries have originated in perceptions and in feuds related to the definition of territorial boundaries, now mostly overcome or in a process of settlement through dialogue and diplomatic action.

Although the existing differences can be viewed as positive factors to stimulate cooperation and harmonious development between countries that can complement each other, depending to how they are perceived, they can also cause difficulties for the joint action of countries belonging to a same region.

This happens, for example, when the possible schemes of cooperation and integration are considered as potentially conflicting, when they are deemed to respond, for example, to the different conceptions of economic and social development of each country, and to opposing views on how to address their insertion in world politics and economy.

Such kind of different approaches can lead to confrontations predominantly of an ideological nature and can eventually lead to difficulties in the governance of the region or subregion. This is more likely to happen when the analysis and the approaches do not take into account the full scope of the importance of the political dimension in the relations between Latin American countries. To some extent, this is what some personalities, such as former Presidents Ricardo Lagos and Lula da Silva, have warned in recent times when referring to the inconveniences of an antagonistic view of the processes of integration through Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance [3].

A better use of the existing institutions in the region

If the convenience of addressing a widespread redesign of the institutional map of the region is excluded, then what becomes valid is the idea of agreeing on joint actions that help member countries make the best use of existing institutions through, when necessary, their adaptation to the new realities of the region and of the respective country.

This involves a process that is likely to be gradual and unlikely to be the result of a default roadmap. On the contrary, it should reflect the idea, based on many experiences, that the voluntary construction of a space of cooperation and integration between sovereign nations demands significant time and effort. In practice, if not always in theory, such a construction is often achieved through successive steps, sometimes erratic, nonlinear, and not necessarily based on the original layout design of the founding moments.

In such a perspective arises the first question that should be asked and discussed in order to address a strategy of convergence in diversity in a region such as Latin America.

This question can be posed as follows:

Wouldn't it be convenient, beyond the evaluations that can be made on their quality and effectiveness, to coordinate efforts for making the best possible use of the existing institutions based on the current and future challenges faced by the countries of the region, especially at the global and regional level, and their remarkable competitive advantages originating, for example, in their natural resources (energy, food, minerals, water, arable land) and human resources (a strong creativity resulting, among other factors, from the cultural and ethnic mix)?

If the answer were positive, at least three possible courses of action would seem advisable. None of them would require substantial modifications to the existing agreements but only to the way they are developed by their bodies and by the respective member countries.

The first line of joint action would involve furthering the communicating vessels and the coordination between the various existing institutional schemes. It is a goal that would be facilitated by a greater transparency in their activities, schedules and costs.

Such transparency, if there is awareness and political intent, is now easier to achieve through substantial improvements in the quality of the Web pages of the existing institutions. For this purpose, these Web pages should be conceived as a means to convey the main data of the institutions so that all actors involved, and in particular citizens, can appreciate their assets, activities, specific contributions to the sought objectives and, in particular, their initiatives to solve people's problems. Also it is important that the Web pages are constantly updated, which is not always the case.

Moreover, in a time when we are witnessing the empowerment of citizenship, the questions about the costs of the institutions of international governance in which each country participates, including the regional and subregional, are becoming more evident.

This has been highlighted in recent times, for example, by the perceptions, disappointments and attitudes of the European citizenships with regard to the effectiveness of the common institutions, particularly after the financial crisis that broke out in 2008.

Therefore, a central aspect of a policy of transparency in Latin America should refer to the budget and the cost structure of each of its institutions and, in particular, on how much it costs each member country, either directly or indirectly. In this regard it should be convenient to anticipate that, henceforth, citizens will increasingly formulate the question: "How much does each institution in which my country participates cost me and what does it contribute to the development of my country?"

The second line of action to address, partly as a result of the above, would involve the effective participation of civil societies with a more efficient use of parliamentary institutions in case they exist, such as Mercosur. The important thing would be to consider citizens and their representative institutions as the primary and privileged recipients of the activities of each institution.

It may even contribute to the image of each institution to establish the figure of a public advocate (ombudsperson), to which to resort to easily and directly, in order to ensure better care of the legitimate interests of the citizens [4]. There are several precedents in this regard in different international organizations, both multilateral and regional.

And the third and most important line of action would be that each country viewed the set of institutions to which it belongs -and which it contributes to finance- in the perspective of its own national strategy for insertion in the global, regional and subregional scenarios.

This would involve responding, in a dynamic manner, to the question of what is the function of each institution and regional coordination space in relation to the respective national interests in a world that can be characterized as multiplex-to quote the imaginative concept used by Professor Amitav Acharya [5]-and in constant process of change.

A so-called world is characterized by providing multiple options of international insertion for each of the protagonist countries -either big or small, developed or emerging- provided they have a clear idea of what they need and what can be obtained from others i.e., that they have their own strategy for dynamic linking with the world and with their respective region.

Such a strategy is likely to be more effective and sustainable if it is based on updated diagnostics of what each country needs and what it can obtain from its external environment, and if it results from a broad social participation of all sectors involved. And also to the extent that the actors involved in its development have a fluid communication with their counterparts in the countries of the region with which there is a desire to cooperate.


Convergence in diversity

The notion of convergence in diversity [6] is an idea that has been present since the beginning of the contemporary process of development of institutions geared towards joint work between the countries of the region. It becomes manifest then in the legal instruments of the existing schemes such as, for example, LAIA and, in particular, its mechanism for agreements of partial scope.

It is an idea that has gained topicality in recent times in view of the initiatives aimed at coordinating the efforts of the countries of Mercosur and those of the Pacific Alliance [7].

This leads to formulate a second relevant question, especially considering what we pointed out earlier about the existing diversities within the region that, due to their scope, do not necessarily lead to fragmentation and confrontation.

The question is as follows:

What must be understood by convergence among the multiple existing modalities of joint action agreements between countries or groups of countries of the region?

To answer this question, we should keep in mind that convergence does not necessarily involve the idea of turning multiple parts and courses of action into a new single and harmonious whole.

In the more concrete sense of the expression as used in the 1980 Treaty of Montevideo [8], which created LAIA, the idea is that in the case of what is of partial scope -i.e., commitments limited only to some of the member countries- there is a provision for expansion to encompass all other interested member countries. It is in the context of the Treaty provisions that we can consider that such idea is more the indication of a goal than the prescription on how and when to achieve it.

At the strategic level in which the term is used today [9], it is possible to understand that it means undertaking a set of autonomous actions that, however, are aimed at achieving objectives that seek to be compatible with each other. In this sense, it can be considered that the concept of convergence adjusts to the idea of pointing the direction of the course of action. This is in line with what was previously mentioned in the sense that the construction of a regional space for cooperation and integration takes time and is the result of a succession of steps, even seemingly unrelated, and not of a single founding act and its initial design.

If it could be thus understood, we can pose the third question that should be asked and debated in order to endeavor to achieve the objective mentioned above of a strategy of convergence in diversity in a region such as Latin America.

This question is perhaps the most relevant and practical of all.

It can be formulated as follows:

What might be, given the current institutional map of the region and the abovementioned scope of the idea of convergence, the main steps and fields of activities to be undertaken in order to enhance the regional diversities as an asset when trying to take advantage of the challenges and opportunities that arise at the global, regional and internal level of each of the countries?

A means to address the answer to this question would be the diagnostic of the wealth of options that result, precisely, from the diversity of resources and situations, ideas and values, experiences and motivations that can be seen in Latin America as a whole [10].

This is a diagnostic that, in today's world, requires constant updating. It should contemplate, among other factors, the potential effects on the countries of the region of the future evolution of the international multilateral trading system in light of what eventually happens to the Doha Round and the results formally obtained, but still very uncertain in their practical impact, at the WTO Ministerial Conference of Bali, in December 2013.

But it must also consider whatever results from the current negotiations aimed at concluding new preferential inter-regional and regional mega agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RX), if they can be completed within the time expected, or at least within a reasonable timeframe. In none of these cases can definite scenarios be anticipated yet, neither their memberships, their contents nor the deadlines for completion. In a way, they reflect the characteristics of an international system in transition to a new, still imprecise, stage.


Some priority areas for future joint action

An advisable way to address future joint action among countries in the region would be to favor at least three fields that, being relevant, would help demonstrate the paths and methodologies to be used in relation to other important fields. However, the agenda can be much broader, as was recently pointed out by Sergio Bitar and Luis Maira [11], and by Alejandro Foxley [12], among others.

In this regard, both UNASUR and CELAC can have, along with other regional and subregional institutions according to their competences, an important role in establishing the fields of joint action deemed as a priority and, later, in encouraging their development.

It is suggested to start more immediately by these three priority areas for joint action among countries interested and open to the idea that other countries of the region or subregion join in later, according to their interests and possibilities:

  • Development of regional networks of prospective analysis and competitive intelligence.

    Their aim would be to facilitate the access to updated diagnostics on those future-baring trends and facts that may have more impact on the strategies for the insertion of the countries of the region in economic competition and global governance, as well as on the strategies for regional articulation and for development at national level.

    For this purpose it would seem advisable to promote systemic actions to facilitate the connection of the national efforts being made by some countries of the region-not seen in all of them-in terms of prospective analysis and competitive intelligence.

    Articulating the existing efforts within the framework of joint multinational networks that aspire to incorporate other institutions that may develop in the future in countries of the region, would mean a remarkable progress in the ability to understand what is happening in global economic competition and its possible impacts on national and regional strategies for international insertion. To this we should add what already exists on this subject in the regional institutions, especially within the scope of the ECLAC and, in some respects, the SELA.

  • Development of regional production networks and supply chains.

    Its purpose would be to facilitate production linkages between companies in countries of the region and to take the best advantage of the growing demand for differentiated goods and services originating from urban consumers of middle-class income, either in the region itself or in emerging countries from other regions, especially Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

    They could be productive linkages developed around specific projects, even by some countries participating in various subregional integration schemes, as could eventually be the case of agreements between some of the Mercosur member countries and others involved in the Pacific Alliance.

    In this regard, LAIA provides invaluable tools to promote and formalize sectorial productive articulation agreements among its member countries without the need to involve them all, at least initially. These are instruments that find their precedent in LAFTA, especially in the figure of the complementation agreements by industrial sector.

    It is important to note that such agreements can be promoted in a manner that is compatible with current WTO regulations, especially due to the effect of the application of the Enabling Clause of the GATT.

    Other important elements in relation to a strategy of productive articulation at sectorial level are those that refer to the regimes of origin, technical regulations and other regulatory frameworks. These can also be addressed within the institutional and regulatory framework of LAIA.

    Perhaps the above mentioned is one of the best examples of how countries in the region can, if they need to in relation to their own national strategies; make better use of the existing institutions without even having to modify their founding legal instruments.

  • Development of networks of innovation and creativity.

    Their purpose would be to encourage sharing national efforts aimed at enhancing the existing capabilities in sectors that are key for effective international integration strategies and for the economic and social development of each country. It does not appear to be necessary, nor it is to be expected, that all the countries of the region or subregions show interest in having an active participation in these networks.

However, the three fields of suggested action will require a sustained and effective effort to substantially improve connectivity between the different national spaces, which would involve making significant investments to develop and promote physical infrastructure and encourage, as necessary, measures to facilitate reciprocal trade.

They are, moreover, fields of action that allow the use of flexible criteria of variable geometries and multiple speeds [15] to enable the active participation of the most interested countries, but open to later participation of others.

As noted by the ECLAC [16], there is no pre-established model on how to carry out joint work, in pursuit of mutual benefits, between countries that share a common regional or subregional geographic space.

Properly interpreted, multilateral international legal rules (GATT-WTO) often provide much room for creativity regarding the mechanisms of joint action to be used by member countries within their respective regions, especially if they are developing countries. What is important is not to interpret them only with the dogmatic criteria arising from theoretical approaches, be they economic or legal, but that those who interpret them thoroughly know the rules and their nuances and, above all, their origins in the respective founding moments. This would help avoid the economic and political costs of eventually resorting to the use of agreements, rules and mechanisms that can be easily considered as infringing international commitments made by countries that promote them.

The methods to be used-sometimes kind of "tailored suits"-will result from the consensus, at the regional or subregional level, of international interests well defined by each of the involved countries and from what they have learned from their previous experiences, as well as from the experiences of other countries and regions. Certainly, in their definition the current commitments and ground rules of the international agreements in which the member countries are involved should be taken into account-interpreted correctly and with practicality- such as, in particular, those of the multilateral trading system institutionalized in the WTO.

A more relevant role in the construction of a regional space of integration and cooperation -in the sense of concerted actions by a group of countries leading to increased connectivity and articulation in every level, but particularly in the economic, without implying that any of them lose their identity and individuality as a sovereign nation-can be played by larger countries and with greater relative power. In this sense, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina would seem better suited to promote, even at their own internal level, measures that contribute to an effective productive articulation in the region, for example, guaranteeing, under certain well-defined conditions, unrestricted access to their domestic markets of goods exchanged within value chains of regional scope.

However, this does not prevent other countries, including those of relatively lower economic dimension, from advancing the articulation of their own productive capacities depending on their interests, particularly if they are geographically contiguous and have well-defined global or regional strategies. At the time, this was made evident by the Andean Group and, certainly, by the Benelux in Europe.

In any case, it is clear that the conditions are not present in Latin America for a country to aspire to play a role such as that of Prussia in the construction of the German Zollverein which, moreover, took several decades to develop fully.

In the current regional institutional map, institutions like the CELAC, UNASUR and LAIA, each within the framework of its competence, can play a central role, assisting in the definition, realization and promotion of these fields of priority action and in their continuous updating.

All this without prejudice to the relevant role that may also be played by other existing institutions in the region, such as the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean -ECLAC/CEPAL- (; the CAF-Development Bank of Latin America and, eventually, the Bank of the South (Banco del Sur) when it is finally in operation.


[1] The author is Director of the Masters in International Trade Relations at Universidad Nacional Tres de Febrero (UNTREF, Argentina) and of the Institute of International Trade of ICBC Foundation. His Web page is

[2] Final version of the working paper prepared by Félix Peña commissioned by the Center of Political, Economic and Social Studies (CEPES) and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES). The original version was revised taking into account the author's notes on the contributions made at the meeting organized by CEPES-FES on September 5, 2014.

[3] See Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva y Ricardo Lagos, "América Latina: dos océanos y una voz", newspaper El País, Madrid, 19 June 2014.

[4] See Félix Peña, "Why not an ombudsperson at the WTO. A proposal for debate", in Carolyn Deere Birkbeck (ed.), "Making Global Trade Governance Work for Development. Perspectives and Priorities from Developing Countries", Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2011, pp. 442-458.

[5] See Amitav Acharya, "The End of American World Order", Polity Press, Cambridge-Malden 2014.

[6] See Heraldo Muñoz, "Convergencia en la diversidad: La nueva política latinoamericana de Chile", published in newspaper El País, Madrid, Thursday 13 March, 2014,

[7] Among others, see Félix Peña, "Mercosur y la Alianza del Pacífico en la integración regional: Primera aproximación a la pregunta ¿se contraponen o se pueden complementar?", in his monthly newsletter of June 2013, and "Convergencia y articulación productiva a nivel regional: Una iniciativa oportuna surgida de la reciente Cumbre de la Alianza del Pacífico", in his monthly newsletter of July 2014, . See also Félix Peña, "Mercosur y Alianza del Pacífico. Tareas pendientes", Alejandro Foxley and Patricio Meller (editors) in "Alianza del Pacífico: en el proceso de integración latinoamericana", CIEPLAN, Santiago de Chile 2014, pp. 95-103 (for the digital version of the book go to

[8] Article 3° b) of the Treaty states that convergence is "expressed in the progressive multilateralization of partial agreements, by means of periodical negotiations between the members countries regarding the establishment of the Latin American Common Market".

[9] It is the scope that can be attributed to the term convergence in the approach made by Chancellor Heraldo Muñoz in his article, cited above.

[10] See the work by Luis Maira, "América del Sur y las perspectivas de la integración en la posguerra fría", in the publication of CEPES, "Mercosur. Prospectiva 20 años", Montevideo 2012, pp.29-35.

[11] See the work of Luis Maira cited in the previous footnote note and that by Sergio Bitar cited in the following footnote.

[12] See the chapter by Alejandro Foxley, "Nuevo desafío para América Latina: Integración productiva", Alejandro Foxley and Patricio Meller (editors) in "Alianza del Pacífico: en el proceso de integración latinoamericana", CIEPLAN, Santiago de Chile 2014, pp. 13-26 (for the digital version of the book go to

[13] See the presentation by Gerardo Caetano, "El futuro de la integración regional: entre la administración de conflictos y la necesidad de pensamiento estratégico", in the publication of CEPES, "Mercosur. Prospectiva 20 años", Montevideo 2012, pp.29-35, and that by Sergio Bitar, "Las tendencias mundiales y el futuro de América Latina", Serie Gestión Pública n° 78, CEPAL - Inter-American Dialogue, CEPAL, Santiago de Chile 2014.

[14] The complementation agreements are originally provided for in Articles 16 and 17 of the Treaty of Montevideo of 1960. They are at the origin of what later would be the partial scope agreements of economic complementation in the LAIA stage. Such figure is perhaps the one that best expresses the original idea that led to the negotiation of what would become LAFTA. It was external pressure that forced to insert that first regional agreement within the framework of the figure of the free trade area provided under Article XXIV of the GATT, altering the original ideas, particularly of Argentina and Brazil. On the original scope of LAFTA and in particular of the complementation agreements, it would be best to refer to the answers of the member countries to the questionnaire that, at the time, was formulated by the GATT to those who were Contracting Parties and also members of LAFTA. Already present in the Treaty of Montevideo of 1980, a central figure is that of the agreement of partial scope defined and regulated in its different variants by the Third Section of Chapter II of the Treaty and, with regard to economic complementarity agreements, by Article 11. In order to harmonize the approach of the new Treaty with the GATT rules, in particular Article XXIV, the countries of the region that were members of the GATT played a leading role in driving the approval at the Tokyo Round (1979) of the so called "Enabling Clause". In the current approaches of "convergence in diversity", especially among the countries of Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance, the aforementioned may have much practical significance.

[15] In relation to this refer to, among others, the approach by Alexander Stubb on "Negotiating Flexibility in the European Union. Amsterdam, Nice and Beyond ", Palgrave, Hampshire - New York 2002 (The author is an expert in these topics and has also been Minister of Foreign Affairs. He is currently Prime Minister of Finland).

[16] CEPAL, "Integración Regional. Hacia una estrategia de cadenas de valor inclusivas", CEPAL - United Nations, Santiago de Chile, May 2014, See also CEPAL, "Panorama de la Inserción Internacional de América Latina y el Caribe 2014. integración regional y cadenas de valor en un escenario externo desafiante". Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL), Santiago de Chile, October 2014,

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. |

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive a monthly e-mail with the
latest articles published on this site.


Regresar a la página anterior | Top de la página | Imprimir artículo

Diseño y producción: Rodrigo Silvosa