Undoubtedly, the process of the construction of Mercosur is currently
facing serious shortcomings. These do not seem to be linked to the idea
of promoting an association for the joint work between member countries.
More than an existential crisis what can be perceived therefore are serious
difficulties related to the methodologies being used to advance its construction.
This relates to the need for the future steps to be credible and effective
and poses a great challenge for Mercosur today.
Future steps need to be credible in the sense that citizens and other
countries, especially those who have to make productive investment decisions
based on the markets expanded by the integration process -thus generating
jobs and economic development-, can take seriously what the corresponding
governments agree and later put into practice.
They need to be effective in the sense that the fact that what is agreed
upon penetrates reality and contributes to achieve the objectives sought
by the decisions that are made. The perception that the citizens of a
country have -even when proven wrong in the end- about the effectiveness
of an integration process can lead to situations such as those currently
observed in the European Union with the so-called Brexit, where the population
demands that their country withdraw from the integration agreement.
On several occasions we have pointed out what are, in our opinion, some
of Mercosur's main methodological flaws (just to mention our most recent
publications, see the newsletters of the months of January
2017; and November
At the beginning of 2019 and after the inauguration of the government
period of the new President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, it seems opportune
to highlight three relevant issues to modernize Mercosur and to restore
its credibility and effectiveness to a more acceptable degree.
The first issue refers to the methodologies used for opening the respective
markets and their impact on international trade negotiations. The second
refers to the institutional methodology that is applied for the adoption
of joint decisions, which also affect the development of the agenda of
trade negotiations with other countries. The third one refers to the methodology
used to ensure that the integration process is based and, therefore guided,
by common ground rules.
Certainly, there are other relevant issues to be addressed. But the three
mentioned above are those that, after almost thirty years of developing
Mercosur, would seem more important to consider, especially in the conversations
at the highest political level.
The priority issue, which is perhaps the most highlighted today, refers
to the debate on whether Mercosur should remain focused on the construction
of a customs union or whether, on the contrary, it would be necessary
to privilege the instrument of the free trade area, as has been done in
the case of the Pacific Alliance.
This issue was addressed in a round table of experts, held on December
4 in Rio de Janeiro and organized by CINDES and CEBRI, on the subject
"The role of the customs union in the future of Mercosur" ("O
papel da uniâo aduaneira no futuro do Mercosul". For a free
interpretation of what was discussed in this gathering, go to http://www.cindesbrasil.org/).
At the convening it was pointed out that the objective of the event was
to promote the debate on the economic, political and legal impacts of
the review of the role of the customs union in the Mercosur model. The
meeting was moderated by two renowned Brazilian specialists, Sandra Rios
and Pedro da Motta Veiga, and began with short presentations by Ambassador
José Alfredo Graça Lima, Lúcia Maduro and Félix
Peña (especially invited to the round table as Argentine expert).
In our presentation, at the beginning of the round table, we highlighted
three aspects in an approach that combined, as befitting, political, economic
and legal factors. Firstly, we mentioned that, in the case of Mercosur,
leaving out the objective of a customs union would require an explicit
modification of the Treaty of Asunción. The arguments for this
were fully developed in the November
2014 issue of this newsletter and in our opinion are still valid today.
From the perspective of the political analysis this means being clear
about whether the governments of the member countries would be able to
secure parliamentary approval of a modification of the Treaty of Asunción,
which would be necessary in such a case. Secondly, we referred to the
room to maneuver provided by the same Treaty for the definition, in the
case of Mercosur, of the actual scope of the instrument of the customs
union. If properly interpreted the leeway for action would be much wider
than if the approach were made, for example, based on what the theory
indicates that its scope should be and that, in practice, has often led
to dogmatic views on the distinction between a "perfect" or
"imperfect" customs union. Thirdly, we referred to the multiple
approaches that would allow a flexible interpretation of the ground rules
of an integration process such as Mercosur, which, if done correctly would
not affect the credibility factor and, thus, the effectiveness of such
The second priority issue refers to the institutional methodology required
by an integration process -understood in the sense of joint work and with
an intent of permanence of sovereign nations that aspire to remain so-
to "produce" rules that are perceived as credible, potentially
effective and legitimate.
From the founding times of the European integration process -what could
be called the Robert Schumann-Jean Monnet moment- three central elements
of the institutional methodology that was used in this case were clear.
On the one hand, the value of the freely agreed ground rules. Secondly,
the fact that such rules contribute to generate the main factor that sustains
them over time and that is to engender "de facto solidarities",
which help "bind" the respective political and economic national
systems Thirdly the recognition that such ground rules need to be periodically
adapted to the changes that occur in the realities (global, regional and
national) in which the integration process is inserted.
The third priority issue refers to the political relevance of the fact
that the process of generating and applying the ground rules is not left
to the discretion of the member countries and especially of their governments.
This implies recognizing the need to generate an instance of mediation
that allows to harmonize the different national interests in contexts
with great dynamics of change.
In the case of European integration, this need led to the design and
continuous development of the so-called "community" institutions,
in the sense of "common" rather than "supranational"
This institutional dimension is, perhaps, the one that has been most
difficult for Mercosur to understand and develop, especially since an
erroneous decision -adopted at mid-level of the diplomatic services accredited
in Montevideo- led to undermine the action of the Secretariat, carried
out under the Brazilian Reginaldo Arcuri, of providing an independent
technical opinion on the state of Mercosur (2004). As a result, the first
published report on its annual evolution was withdrawn from circulation.
Never again was an independent technical evaluation produced by a Mercosur
The three mentioned issues need to be addressed at the highest political
level of the member countries. But they also require an intense approach
in other relevant spheres, such as those of the institutions that represent
the diverse social interests and that of the experts who can contribute
with their ideas to guide the actions promoted by the different political
and social protagonists of the member countries.