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  Félix Peña

INTERNATIONAL TRADE RELATIONS NEWSLETTER
2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009
CONDITIONS FOR AN EFFECTIVE REGIONALISM:
What lessons can be learned from the experience accumulated by Mercosur?

by Félix Peña
February 2012

English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza


 

Its revalorization for the construction of a solid foundation for effective global governance that can be sustainable in time, updates the issue of how to achieve a global and efficient regionalism. This is a topic that becomes current due to the fact that, sometimes, the actions and agreements of regional or inter-regional scope, given the case, lose relevance with the passing of time. They even reflect a trend to generate media events by governments which, even when deemed historic, are not always materialized or fail to produce the anticipated results.

Latin America is a geographical space with a wealth of experiences, actions, strategies, institutions and regional agreements of different kind and scope. These present an abundance of diversity and overlapping, sometimes only apparent, of functions and objectives. Even when they respond to realities and have an underlying logic, this institutional patchwork is not easy to understand from outside the region.

Regionalism in Latin American countries has also numerous expressions of inter-regional scope which conform, in practice, a wide global network with different intensities.

Mercosur is one of the main expressions of Latin American regionalism. Much has been written about its trajectory and real results. In recent times, the debate over its effectiveness and efficacy has reemerged. This debate has been encouraged by President José Mujica, among others, who, from his Uruguayan perspective, has pointed out the shortcomings and flaws of Mercosur which would be convenient to discuss, confront and overcome.

A debate over the institutional quality of Mercosur could be furthered if some valid issues to assess the effectiveness and efficacy of any regional or inter-regional agreement were identified. Particularly when they have political objectives aimed at facilitating the governance of a regional geographic space through the construction of a thick web of social networks of all kinds, for which purpose ground rules and symbols to help identify citizenship with a common project are created.

Given the dominant trends in the world scenario, including those that lead to revalue a "revamped" regionalism as a condition for global governance, it would seem opportune to follow President Mujica lead by undertaking a sincere and wide-ranging multidimensional debate on the future of Mercosur.


Regionalism in its different variations -on degrees of institutionalization and on emphasis in the geopolitical and/or the economic-commercial- is being actualized. This is helped by the deep changes that are taking place at the international level and the evident difficulties in putting together actions that are aimed at furthering the existing global agreements and institutions or at redesigning them, when necessary. (See the article by Ian Brenner listed as recommended reading of this newsletter and the report by the Global Agenda Council on Geopolitical Risk of World Economic Forum on http://www3.weforum.org/).

These are changes that have a bearing on the distribution of relative power among nations and on the growing economic convergence that has been noted by Giovanni Arrighi (see the reference to his book in the recommended reading section of this newsletter) and by Michael Spence (see the reference to his recent book in the recommended reading section of the November 2011 edition of this newsletter), among other authors. These changes also relate to the greater physical, economic and even cultural connectivity between the different sovereign territories, sometimes far removed from each other; to the redefinition of what exerting sovereignty in a national geographic space implies; to the multiple modalities of integration of the transnational value chains and, in particular, to the awareness by many of the stakeholders (countries, social organizations and people) that they now hold the power and that they are ready to use it.

The difficulties are evinced, for example, by the stagnation -or should we say hibernation? - of the Doha Round within the World Trade Organization (WTO). This was made clear in the last Ministerial Conference, which met in Geneva last December (see the January 2012 edition of this newsletter), as well as in the panel on global trade and international trade negotiations organized by the World Economic Forum of Davos, on Saturday 28 January, 2012 (see http://www.weforum.org/)-. It is also made evident by the perception that the G20, even when playing a useful role in the collective management of the current international financial crisis, is not fully regarded as an efficient mechanism for the construction of a new and necessary architecture of global governance -at least in the economic and international trade fields.

The revalorization of regionalism, even as a way of building a solid foundation for efficient global governance that is sustainable in time, updates the issue of how to make it effective, i.e. that it is able to penetrate reality. This is an issue that becomes more current in view of the fact that, sometimes, actions and agreements of regional or inter-regional scope, given the case, fail to go beyond the short or medium term. On the contrary, they may reflect a trend to generate media impact by the corresponding governments and, even when their historical relevance is proclaimed, they ultimately fail to be consummated or produce the announced results. Other times they lose their initial momentum after a first period of enthusiasm and relative effectiveness. There are some cases in which a regional agreement remains suspended in some kind of limbo, as if it were a "sleeper cell", and notwithstanding awakens and updates its validity as a response to the changes in circumstances. The Arab League (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_League) has recently been cited as an example of this due to its role in the Libyan and Syrian crises (see the article by Ian Bremmer listed as recommended reading in this newsletter).

Latin America is a geographical space with a wealth of experiences, actions, strategies, institutions and regional agreements of very different type and scope. In recent times, the trend towards regional agreements has intensified through the creation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), (http://unasursg.org/) and most recently of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), (http://en.wikipedia.org/). They represent a picture full of diversities and of apparent overlapping of functions and objectives. Even when they are a response to concrete historic realities with an underlying logic, this institutional patchwork is not always well understood from outside the region. (On this regard, refer to the article by Michael Shifter listed in the recommended reading section of this newsletter).

In Latin America, regionalism also has numerous expressions of inter-regional scope which implies, in practice, a global network with different intensities. Among other aspects it manifests through several bilateral agreements that countries such as, for example, Chile and Peru have signed with countries in Asia and the Pacific; in the participation in relevant inter-regional forums such as that of the APEC; or in agreements currently under negotiation such as the Transpacific Partnership (TPP). It manifests in particular in the relations with the US and Canada, within the Inter American system, as well as in the deeply rooted historical relations with the nations of the European geographic space that have translated into a dense fabric of actions and bilateral agreements and, increasingly in later years, bi-regional agreements. It has also had a relevant expression in the Ibero-American front with the yearly summits and the intense action of the General Ibero-American Secretariat in charge of Enrique Iglesias.
The Inter-American, the bi-regional involving Europe and the Ibero-American ambits seem to require much re-engineering for their adaptation to the new regional and international realities. The upcoming presidential summits -the Sixth Summit of the Americas to be held in Cartagena, Colombia, in April of this year (http://www.summit-americas.org/); the 18th Ibero-American Summit, that will take place in Cadiz, Spain, next October (http://www.cadiz2012.es/cumbre.asp), and the EU-CELAC Summit, that will meet in Santiago de Chile in January, 2013- may provide an opportunity to "re-tune" (as per the well-chosen expression used by Francesc Castells in the article listed as recommended reading of this newsletter) the relations, expectations and aspirations of the participating countries.

Mercosur is one of the main manifestations of Latin American regionalism. Much has been written on its trajectory and efficacy (refer to our article, listed as recommended reading, based on a presentation for the Global Governance Programme, Robert Schumann Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute, of Florence, Italy). In recent times, the debate over the effectiveness and efficacy of Mercosur has been updated. This has been promoted by President José Mujica, among others, who from his Uruguayan perspective pointed out the shortcomings and flaws of Mercosur that should be discussed, confronted and overcome. As all good political leaders, he has the ability to summarize in short phrases the essence of a message directed to citizens and not exclusively to leaders or experts. On one occasion he remarked that Mercosur was "lame and reduced to misery". More recently, in an interview for the weekly Búsqueda, of Montevideo (February 9, 2012) he said that Mercosur existed in reality but that from the legal point of view it had been "made into a chewing gum". He was resuming in this way what he had expressed some time before in reference to the fact that Mercosur was deadlocked and that had a problem of "institutional quality" (in an interview published by the newspaper Folha de Sâo Paulo, on 29 January, 2012; see as well the piece by Flavio González entitled "El Mercosur estancado" on page 37 of Clarín newspaper of 4 February, 2012). This is an issue that was later picked up by Chancellor Luis Almagro when, on a recent meeting at the Chamber of Deputies of Uruguay, he pointed out, among other things, that the mechanism for the resolution of disputes was Mercosur's weak point given that there are no legal or economic incentives to comply with what is agreed. (See Infobae.com from 9 February, 2012).

The current debate on Mercosur's institutional quality could be furthered in the measure that some valid issues to assess the effectiveness and efficacy of any regional or inter-regional agreement are identified. Particularly when there are political objectives aimed at facilitating the governance of a regional geographic space through the construction of a dense weave of social networks of every kind, for which purpose ground rules to turn the conditions for productive investment more predictable and symbols to identify citizens with a common project are created.

In our opinion, Mercosur's own experience -but also that of other regions including, of course, the European Union- helps us identify at least three necessary questions, without dismissing others or the possible unfolding that could result from each one of them.

Such questions are: How to generate a stable scenario for mutual gain between the member countries, given the existing differences -sometimes very pronounced- in relative power and level of economic development? How to adopt common decisions that are materialized in effective ground rules that penetrate reality and produce the desired results, and that have sufficient social legitimacy as a result of the right degree of transparency and citizen participation present during their creation? And finally: How to reconcile a strategic and preferential relation between countries that, at the same time, may aspire to develop strategies of multiple alliances with other nations as a consequence of the new international realities and of global economic competition?

Given the dominant trends in the world scenario, including those that lead to a revalorization and at the same time a re-evaluation of regionalism as a condition for global governance, it would seem opportune to respond to the incentives introduced by President Pepe Mujica by undertaking a multidimensional debate on the future of Mercosur, with an ample participation of the citizenship. This debate could focus, for example, on the questions listed above.


Recommended Reading:


  • APSEN, "Temas de Política Exterior, Comercio y Relaciones Internacionales", Asociación Profesional del Servicio Exterior de la Nación, Año IV - N° 4, Buenos Aires, Diciembre 2011.
  • Arrighi, Giovanni; Silver, Beverly J., -"Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System", University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis - London, 1999.
  • Arrighi, Giovanni, "Adam Smith in Beijing. Lineages of the Twenty-First Century", Verso, London - New York 2007.
  • Bremmer, Ian, "Decline of global institutions means we best embrace regionalism", en Financial Times, January 27, 2012, http://blogs.ft.com/ y "Leadership: Less global, more regional". January 26, 2012, on: http://eurasia.foreignpolicy.com/.
  • Brzezinski, Zbigniew, "Strategic Vision. America and the Crisis of Global Power", Basic Books, New York 2012.
  • Dobson, Wendy, "Will Asia Step-Up to the Global Challenges of 2012", East Asia Forum, January 8th, 2012 , on: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/.
  • Drysdale, Peter, "Asia, Europe and Regional Cooperation in 2012", East Asia Forum, January 9th, 2012, on: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/.
  • Granell, Francesc, "Resintonizar con Latinoamérica", diario El País, Madrid, Enero 24, 2012, page 25, on: http://elpais.com/.
  • Greenwood, Justin, "Interest Representation in the European Union", The European Union Series, 3rd Edition, Palgrave Macmillan, London 2011.
  • Eoyang, Eugene, "Coat of Many Colors. Reflections on Diversity by a Minority of One", Beacon Press, Boston 2001.
  • Lenin, Vladimir Ilich, "El imperialismo, Fase Superior del Capitalismo", Estudio introductorio de Plínio de Arruda Sampâio Júnior, Ediciones Luxemburg, Buenos Aires 2009.
  • Leonard, Mark, "Four Scenarios for the Reinvention of Europe", European Council on Foreign Relations, Essay, November 2011, en: http://www.ecfr.eu/.
  • Losada, Leandro, "La alta sociedad en la Buenos Aires de la Belle Époque", Siglo XXI Editora Sudamericana, Buenos Aires, 2008.
  • Marx, Karl; Engels, Friedrich, "Manifiesto Comunista", Colección Tésis XI, De la Campana, La Plata 2010.
  • McGregor, Richard, "The Party. The Secret World of China's Communists Rulers", HarperCollins, New York, 2010.
  • Peña, Félix, "Mercosur as a regional and global protagonist", European University Institute, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS, PP, 2012/01) on: http://www.eui.eu/).
  • Pimentel Ferreira Leâo, Rodrigo; Costa Pinto, Eduardo; Acioly, Luciana (orgs.), "A China na Nova Configuraçâo Global. Impactos políticos e económicos", IPEA, Brasilia, 2011.
  • Pomeranz, Kenneth; Topik, Steven, "The World that Trade Created. Society, Culture and the World Economy. 1400 to the present", M.E.Sharpe, Armonk, New York - London, 2006.
  • Revista Política Externa, "A difícil governança do mundo em crise", Vol. 20, n° 3, Sâo Paulo, Dec/Jan/Feb 2011-2011.
  • Rego Viana, André; Silva Barros, Pedro; Bojikian Calixtre, André (orgs.), "Governança Global e Integraçâo da América do Sul", IPEA, Brasilia, 2011.
  • Revista de Sociología e Política, "Dossie China", UFP, vol.19, supl. 1, Novembre 2011, on: http://www.scielo.br/.
  • Sanahuja, José Antonio, "Post-Liberal Regionalism in South America: the case of UNASUR", European University Institute, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS, WP, 2012/05), on: http://www.eui.eu/.
  • Scavone Yegros, Ricardo; Brezzo, Liliana M., "Historia de las Relaciones Internacionales del Paraguay", Colección La Gran Historia del Paraguay 19, El Lector, Asunción, 2010.
  • Shifter, Michael, "The Shifting Landscape of Latin American Regionalism", Current History, A Journal of Contemporary World Affairs, Philadelphia, February 2012, on: http://www.thedialogue.org/.
  • Smith, Adam, "Investigación sobre la Naturaleza y Causa de la Riqueza de las Naciones", Edición de Edwin Cannan, Fondo de Cultura Económica, México, 2010.
  • Vadell, Javier, "A China na América do Sul e as Implicaçôes Geopolíticas do Consenso do Pacífico", Revista de Sociología e Política, UFP, vol. 19, supl. 1, ps. 57 a 79, Curitiba, Novembre 2011, en: http://www.scielo.br/.
  • Wallerstein, Immanuel, "World - Systems Analysis. An Introduction", Duke University Press, Durham - London, 2004.
  • Wihardja, María Monica, "The 2012 G20 Summit: facing down global challenges in Mexico", CSIS, Jakarta, East Asia Forum, February 11th, 2012, on: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/.
  • World Economic Forum, "Global Agenda Council on Geopolitical Risk", WEF, Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 25-29 January, on: http://www3.weforum.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 information.

http://www.felixpena.com.ar | info@felixpena.com.ar


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