By way of introduction 
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
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- (www.aladi.org), resulting from the
transformation of the Latin American Free Trade Association -LAFTA -,
of the Latin American Economic System -SELA- (www.sela.org) and, more
recently, of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States - CELAC
- (www.celac.org) .
Others are of South American scope, such as the case of the Union of
South American Nations -UNASUR - (www.unasursg.org).
And others are of subregional scope, such as the case of the Common Market
of the South - Mercosur - (www.mercosur.int); the Central America Common
Market, today the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration
- SICA - (www.sica.int/sgsica and www.sieca.int); and the Community of
Andean Nations -CAN- (www.comunidadandina.org), formerly the Andean Group;
the Caribbean Community - CARICOM - (www.caricom.org); the Bolivarian
Alliance for the Peoples of Our America - ALBA - (http://alba-tcp.org)
and, more recently, the Pacific Alliance (http://alianzapacifico.net).
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- (www.caf.com); the Financial
Fund for the Development of the River Plate Basin - FONPLATA - (www.fonplata.org);
the Central American Bank for Economic Integration - BCIE - (www.bcie.org),
and the Caribbean Development Bank - CARIBANK - (www.caribank.org).
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
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
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 . 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 -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  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
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 .
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
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
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 , 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 , 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
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 .
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
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 , and by Alejandro
Foxley , 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
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
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
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
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  to enable the active participation
of the most interested countries, but open to later participation of others.
As noted by the ECLAC , 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-
(www.cepal.org); the CAF-Development Bank of Latin America and, eventually,
the Bank of the South (Banco del Sur) when it is finally in operation.