| INTERNATIONAL TRADE NEGOTIATIONS OF LATIN
Relevant issues for the design of a regional strategic agenda for 2016.
by Félix Peña
English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza
In a world in profound transformation we can observe
certain issues that may gain special relevance in 2016. These issues have
a geopolitical, a geoeconomic and, for obvious reasons, a commercial scope.
This is so because they are the result of the trends towards rupture and
systemic fragmentation in terms of the approaches and concrete actions
at the global, regional or inter-regional level. But they are also issues
that might favor cooperation and joint work in multiple aspects beyond
the natural differences and asymmetries that characterize the countries
of Latin America and their mutual relations.
A first issue refers to the consolidation, or eventual
failure, of the process initiated with the announcement of the restoration
of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US. A second issue is related
with global and interregional economic governance. It opens up the possibility
of multiple unfoldings. One that has currently gained relevance is related
to who will be able to influence the definition of the future ground rules
in the competition for world markets, be they multilateral, global, inter-regional
or regional. And the third issue refers to the development of convergence
in diversity as a strategic idea of regional scope, opportunely proposed
by the Chilean government as a means of overcoming the tendency towards
confrontation between two different Latin Americas, symbolically identified
as belonging either to the Atlantic or to the Pacific.
These three issues could contribute, if addressed
correctly, to facilitate the renewal of the negotiating proposals of Latin
American countries in the front of international trade relations. The
lessening of emotional factors and the ensuing reduction of an ideological
conception of negotiations and their outcome could lead, if there is political
leadership and solid technical proposals, to the creation of conditions
for the region to simultaneously undertake preferential trade negotiations
-consistent with WTO rules, if understood in the perspective of the "constructive
ambiguity" of the GATT- with at least three regional spaces such
as the US, EU and China. Latin American countries should act according
to their views on what should characterize global economic competition
in the future, including a global multilateral framework that is functional
to the economic and social development of all countries.
Being able to develop an assertive and effective strategy for the insertion
into the international political and economic competition will be of great
importance in the regional agenda of Latin American countries next year.
This implies developing joint efforts in terms of diagnosis and articulation
of concrete actions, either at the regional, inter-regional or global
level. The strengthening of a regional network of competitive intelligence
should be one of the priorities for 2016.
In a world undergoing profound changes, we can observe some issues that
may gain special relevance in 2016. These are issues that have a geopolitical,
geoeconomic and, for obvious reasons, a commercial scope. This is so because
they are the result of the trends towards fracture and systemic fragmentation
in terms of approaches and specific global, inter-regional or regional
actions. But they are also issues that may favor tendencies toward cooperation
and joint work in several fields, beyond the differences and asymmetries
that can be seen in Latin American countries and that affect their mutual
If anything characterizes these relevant issues is that, due to their
scope, they underscore the emotional factor in international relations.
This means that they can arouse passions, sometimes expressed in ideological
approaches. At a time when there is a growing inclination towards what
Dominique Moisi has called the geopolitics of emotions (see "La geopolítica
de las emociones", Grupo Editorial Norma, Bogotá 2009), at
the global level the behavior of many nations has started to become dominated
by the culture of fear, humiliation and hope (on humiliation as a re-emerging
and relevant factor in contemporary international relations, see Bertrand
Badie, "Le Temps des Humiliés. Pathologie des Relations Internationales",
Odile Jacob, Paris 2014). And, in particular, emotions are again penetrating
the internal debate of many countries regarding the world around them.
Emotions then affect the definition of enemies and friends, thus hindering
a more rational and balanced analysis of the options for the international
integration of a country or a region.
Precisely, a first issue is linked with a bilateral relation that had
a profound impact on inter-American and domestic politics of Latin American
countries. It is a relation that once generated emotional and ideological
debris in the political debate in several countries dand in the region
as a whole. We are referring to the consolidation, or eventual failure,
of the process initiated with the announcement of the resumption of diplomatic
relations between Cuba and the United States (on the historic step taken
by the two governments on December 17, 2014, see http://internacional.elpais.com/).
Several other steps have been taken since then, including the reopening
of the two embassies and, more recently, visits to Havana by senior US
government officials, such as the Secretary of Agriculture, Thomas Vilsack,
who on his visit on November 13 pointed to agriculture as one of the bridges
to be developed between the two countries (see http://www.martinoticias.com/).
There are still many obstacles to be overcome and many bridges to be
built in this new bilateral relation if the goal is to consolidate it.
But the important thing to consider is the effect that this could have
for addressing other issues that are relevant to the region, such as,
among others, the peace negotiations in Colombia and its relations with
Venezuela, including Venezuela's own political evolution.
The rest of Latin America not only benefits from this new era of bilateral
relations but can also play a role in its consolidation. Establishing
solid bridges that emphasize the link between Cuba and other countries
of the region and the world may contribute to its multipolar international
integration, thus avoiding the ghost of a return to asymmetric and exclusive
relationships with a great power (initially Spain, then the US and finally
the USSR). And on many other issues the countries of the region acting
together with other countries that have the capacity to influence the
Cuban economic development, such as, among others, the EU, Canada and
China, can make a valuable contribution.
This was precisely one of the issues discussed at the Seminar held on
November 4, in Hamburg, on the triangular relations between the EU, Latin
America and the Caribbean, and Cuba (http://eulacfoundation.org/),
organized by the EU-LAC Foundation, GIGA and CAF. These are triangular
relations that do not exclude other relations in which each of the three
regions are engaged. In a certain way, the world of relatively institutionalized
regions tends to be perceived, increasingly, as a network of inter-regional
overlapping triangles. In order to continue developing, the EU-LAC-China
triangle requires a gradual approach to growth -the snowball methodology-that
starts with specific projects of high symbolic value and strong economic,
political and cultural potential.
In this sense, the renewed appreciation for the Old Havana and the preservation
of its socio-cultural characteristics -a true jewel of urban planning
and Latin American culture (see the article "La nueva Cuba está
en La Habana Vieja", in El País newspaper from 12 June 2015,
is one of many aspects related to the economic and social development
of Cuba in which the countries that eventually form this triangle could
join efforts for an effective cooperation. Regional organizations such
as the CAF-Latin American Development Bank, which is already operating
in relation to Cuba or, in terms of production and trade cooperation,
the ALADI along with the ECLAC and the CELAC, the SELA and the SEGIB,
could have a leading role that would be extremely useful in promoting
actions such as those mentioned at the Hamburg Seminar.
A second issue relates to global and interregional economic governance.
It is an issue that opens up the possibility of multiple unfoldings. One
that has currently gained relevance refers to who will be able to influence
the definition of the future ground rules of the competition for world
markets, be they multilateral and global or inter-regional and regional.
Three current negotiating fronts illustrate this issue. One is the WTO
and its upcoming Ministerial Conference, to be held in Nairobi. Will it
be decided there, as has been proposed by some countries, to end the Doha
Round without previously defining an alternative for global trade negotiations
that is acceptable to all member countries?
This can be linked to the second negotiating front, which is the end
result of the recently concluded negotiating process of the Trans-Pacific
Partnership (TPP). If the agreement finally came into force it could be
considered as a basis for defining future rules of international trade.
This has been raised by prestigious specialists including Professor Richard
Baldwin, among others. Even when the TPP negotiations -like other regional
and inter-regional trade negotiations- have not been characterized by
transparency, the full text of the agreement including its various annexes,
is now available (see http://www.acuerdoscomerciales.gob.pe/).
Furthermore, when announcing the publication of the full text, President
Obama himself admitted that knowing who defines the rules of the future
of international trade is an important matter. Specifically, he pointed
out that if the US did not define the rules, at least with regards to
Asia, China would do so (see the text of his statement of November 6 on
Was he acknowledging in this way a geopolitical dimension of the TTP?
The other negotiating front refers to climate change. Will the Paris
Conference, to be held next December, have the same fate as the previous
Conference held in Copenhagen? Known as COP16 / CMP6, it is a notorious
case of the difficulty of defining rules in the new stage of the international
system -Ian Bremmer's G0?- characterized by the fact that it is not easy
to know how many countries must sit at the international negotiating table
in order to produce rules that are effective, efficient and legitimate
(see the May
2012 issue of this Newsletter on http://www.felixpena.com.ar/). Hence
the uncertainties that now surround the outcome of the Paris Conference
and on what would be the concrete legal effect of any rules that are approved
The third issue refers to the development of convergence in diversity
as a strategic idea of regional scope, proposed at the time by the government
of Chile in order to overcome the trends towards confrontation of two
different Latin Americas, identified symbolically as belonging either
to the Atlantic or to the Pacific. Instead, it has been pointed out that
it would be advisable to look for different communicating vessels between
the Mercosur countries and the countries of the Pacific Alliance in different
areas, such as, for example, physical connectivity, production linkages,
technological innovation, preservation of the environment and academic
At a meeting of ministers, held in November 2014, in Santiago de Chile
and which included the participation of non-governmental sectors, it was
made clear that this did not imply integrating or merging the two major
agreements in the region, including those of Central America and the Caribbean.
And as we pointed out at the time: "Convergence or confrontation?
Two options evoked by the relation between Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance.
Choosing one or the other transcends the economic and the commercial level.
It delves deep into the political as it is closely related with regional
governance and the prevalence of a climate of harmony functional to democracy
and to the economic and social development of the member countries".
(Refer to the December
2014 issue of this Newsletter on http://www.felixpena.com.ar/).
Even when some time has elapsed since its introduction, the above is
a strategic idea that still preserves full force and validity for the
Latin American region. It is an idea that may even be useful in other
regions and at a global scale to counter the marked differences and asymmetries
that characterize today's world. Perhaps it failed to maintain the momentum
that it had obtained in the abovementioned meeting of November 2014. And
the fact is that the discussed approaches did not translate into what
should have been a roadmap, for example, in the field of joint action
of a triangle of regional institutions such as the CAF, the ECLAC and
the ALADI. Several factors appear to have caused this, including long-standing
What would seem advisable for the agenda of 2016 is that this strategic
idea recovers its initial momentum. This could help deactivate the tendencies
towards fragmentation of the region, fueled by competing ideological visions
on how to enter global economic competition and how to contribute to the
necessary global governance. If these opposing views prospered, they would
open the door to new emotional cleavages that would render difficult any
effort aimed at regional governance, with the resulting repercussions
on the domestic politics of some of the countries whose cultures are more
prone to the geopolitics of emotions. This would not to be a desirable
The three abovementioned issues could contribute, if properly addressed,
to facilitate the renewal of the negotiating proposals of the countries
of Latin America in the front of international trade relations. The lessening
of emotional factors and its ensuing impact on reducing the ideological
conception of the negotiations and their outcomes could eventually lead,
assuming there is political leadership and sound technical proposals,
to creating conditions for the region to simultaneously undertake preferential
trade negotiations that are functional to their interests and consistent
with WTO rules (if well understood in the perspective of "constructive
ambiguity") with three other large regional spaces relevant to Latin
America, such as the US, the EU and China. In such negotiations, Latin
American countries should act according to their own visions of what should
characterize the global economic competition of the future, including
a global multilateral framework of the WTO that is functional to the economic
and social development of all countries.
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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