The global COVID-19 crisis is demanding that, at the Latin American
regional level, steps be taken to renew or build government institutions
that allow the countries that are interested to work together on a permanent
basis, and with goals adapted to the new realities.
These realities are characterized by several factors that set them apart
from the world that emerged at the end of World War II (1945) and after
the end of the Cold War (1989-91). These factors include: more protagonists,
especially relevant ones (States and non-State actors); much more connection
at all levels and increasingly in the cultural aspect, understood in a
broad sense; and much more diversity, in all dimensions and not only in
terms of values and ideas.
We are referring to regional or sub-regional government institutions,
created with a desire for permanence and voluntary membership. Becoming
a member country, if the requirements are met, depends not only on the
political will of the country that wishes to join, but also on the acceptance
of the other partner countries. The constituent agreement determines the
objectives that lead the countries that aspire to be members to work together.
They reflect the existential dimension of the institution being created,
the "reason why to work together". It also determines the methodological
dimension, that is, "how to work together".
The two dimensions -existential and methodological- respond to the principle
of "freedom of organization" characteristic of the relations
between independent states. That means that, although there are political,
economic and legal factors that affect the definition of the why and the
how, the joint work between sovereign nations that wish to remain so (despite
accepting to limit the unrestricted exercise of their sovereignty) responds
to what the associated countries understand to be their needs.
These types of institutions, usually called "association or integration",
have an important precedent in the construction of what is today the European
Union. Certainly, there are other valuable experiences in Europe itself
and in other regions, especially in Southeast Asia, with the ASEAN. Some
are failed attempts, others are more focused on economic and mainly commercial
integration. In Latin America, we can mention the experiences of LAFTA
and later LAIA; the Andean Group and later the Andean Community of Nations;
the Central American Common Market; the Caribbean Community and, more
recently, the Pacific Alliance and Mercosur, all different in nature and
The experiences mentioned differ more in their methodological aspects
rather than in their existential ones. These are initiatives that, in
their initial stages, have highlighted the importance of political leadership
-usually at a high governmental level- and of those contributing ideas
and management capacities for the concrete construction of the associative
pact or, later on, to the development of the necessary steps for the effective
implementation of what has been agreed upon.
In the European case, for example, the Frenchman Jean Monnet played a
decisive role in the foundation of regional integration, both in defining
its existential and its methodological dimensions. Like every builder,
he had a vision, and his great skill was to adapt it to the visions of
other key players in the construction of Europe. However, he was not the
sole architect of this process. At the time of its foundation, in 1950,
there were many others, including those who provided political leadership.
The key, however, was that they all knew how to assemble the right teams
to help with the joint work of all involved.
The dream that led to what is now the EU was, on the one hand, peace
and, on the other, joint work between bordering nations, in order to generate
de facto solidarity based on mutual gains in terms of development, economic
growth and social progress, thus making violent confrontations and wars
Some of the protagonists of the European integration experience imagined
the creation of a new autonomous unit of power, that is, a national state.
To a certain extent, this was a model that led to the development of other
nation-states, such as the United States. But that was not the prevailing
vision. It was not possible and perhaps not necessary in Europe, neither
would it be in Latin America or Asia.
What resulted over time was the gradual construction of what has become,
after seventy years, a comprehensive and diverse shared geographical space
centered around the historical and cultural concept of Europe. Something
perhaps in line with the diversity of this vision is outlined in a recent
article by Janne Teller entitled "My Dream For Europe", in the
book edited by Sophie Hughes and Sarah Cleave (Europe 28: Writing by Women
on the Future of Europe, Comma Pres & Hay Festival, UK 2020). It is
a very original work in which twenty eight women (one from each EU country,
including Great Britain), give their diverse points of view on the meaning
of the common project of European integration.
In our region, LAIA defined in 1980 an integration methodology based
on the experience accumulated in the previous LAFTA stage. The original
vision of building a common Latin American market was maintained, but
the Treaty specifically refers to steps that can contribute to this long-term
In other opportunities we have mentioned how convenient it would be for
our country and for Mercosur to take full advantage of the potential offered
by LAIA in the strategies for development and international insertion.
If properly interpreted, its rules would help achieve the sought objectives
through a balance between the effects of predictability and, at the same
time, flexibility, produced by the preferential trade agreement, in particular
the tariff and non-tariff commitments agreed within its framework between
groups of member countries, but not necessarily including all.
Two contributions result from the Treaty that replaced the more rigid
formulas included in the Treaty of Montevideo of 1960, which created LAFTA.
The first was to set aside the failed attempt to create a free trade area,
to be perfected within twelve years. This was an objective that the governments
of the countries that negotiated and signed the Treaty had not originally
imagined but which they had to include to adapt it to the prevailing interpretation
of the GATT rules. The second contribution was to insert the new Treaty
into the framework of the "enabling clause", which had been
negotiated at the Tokyo Round of 1979. This implied a much more flexible
formula for preferences, especially tariff-related ones, granted among
One of the relevant effects of these two contributions is reflected in
the opportunities offered by LAIA, with its rules referring to the partial
scope agreements provided for in the 1980 Treaty of Montevideo Treaty
and in Resolution No. 2 of the Council of Ministers. These are very practical
and functional instruments for the development of joint strategies between
two or more (but not necessarily all) participating countries, aimed at
promoting multiple modes of preferential trade links and transnational
productive chains and, above all, those that seek to have a regional scope
and global projection. A simple reading of the above-mentioned regulations
gives an idea of the wide range of options offered by LAIA's legal instruments.
This was, perhaps, the main contribution to the methodologies of economic
integration that resulted from the negotiating meeting of the Treaty,
which took place in Acapulco, in June 1980.
LAIA's rules facilitate the development of strategies for "convergence
in diversity" among its member countries. In 2014, this was the strategic
approach promoted at the initiative of President Michelle Bachelet and
her Foreign Affairs Minister, Heraldo Muñoz, following a meeting
of the member countries held in Santiago de Chile.
Moreover, they contribute to the development of convergence policies
between different regional integration processes, such as is the case
between Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance, among others. As we have pointed
out in other opportunities, it would be convenient to develop joint initiatives
among this group of countries, in relation to relevant issues of their
own international trade relations agendas.
A relevant issue for the joint action by this group of countries is
that of the reforms that should be introduced in the WTO. What reforms
could be of most interest to the Mercosur countries and those of the Pacific
Alliance? What concrete proposals could be presented by this group of
countries? What could be the position of the countries of the group in
relation to proposals introduced by other countries or groups such as
the US, the EU, China, India, Australia, Japan or South Africa, among
Another issue is the development of preferential trade agreements involving
countries of the Pacific Alliance and Mercosur, with a bi-regional scope.
The conclusion of the agreement between Mercosur and the EU, if it is
ever signed and enters into force, could open the way to the connection
with the agreements that the EU has concluded with countries of the Pacific
Alliance, as proposed at the time by Ricardo Lagos and Osvaldo Rosales.
A network of bi-regional agreements would then emerge that would be very
functional to the promotion of joint investments involving companies from
both regions. The same could result from a network of bi-regional agreements
between countries of the Group of 8 (Mercosur and Pacific Alliance) and
other large markets (such as China, India, Canada, Japan and the US, among
others, including ASEAN).
In 2017, LAIA, together with ECLAC, INTAL and SIECA, organized a regional
meeting on the basis of a comprehensive Latin American economic trade
agreement. Their contributions and conclusions continue to be valid for
addressing future joint work between countries of the region. (For the
report on the meeting held at LAIA headquarters on April 21, 2017, refer
to "Memorias del Conversatorio. Responder proponiendo. Bases para
un acuerdo económico comercial integral latinoamericano",
in ALADI's web page)
The recent appointment of Sergio Abreu as ALADI's new Secretary General
(2020-2023) is a factor that can contribute to the full realization of
the organization's potential, especially in the post-pandemic world. He
will be able to continue and deepen the work done, especially by his two
predecessors, as evinced through the meeting mentioned above..
Abreu has a solid academic and political background in his country, Uruguay.
In his vast political and professional activity, he has been Chancellor
(1993-95), Minister of Industry, Mining and Energy (2000-2002), Senator
of the Republic, and President of the Uruguayan Council on International
Relations (CURI). He has a thorough knowledge of the countries of the
region and their economic integration processes. As a Uruguayan, he has
gained valuable experience in the difficult and necessary task of trying
to build consensus that are effective, efficient and socially legitimate,
and there is no doubt that he will attempt to do likewise this time.