CHALLENGES FACED IN INTEGRATION PROCESSES
A view from the perspective of Latin American countries.
by Félix Peña
English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza
In other opportunities we have addressed the issue
of the different modalities of joint work between nations in the sphere
of international trade, especially if they are developed in the context
of integration and cooperation processes within the institutional framework
of the WTO.
This is a question that has acquired greater relevance in light of
the often serious challenges that we are observing today at the global
level and in the different geographic regions in which international competition
is developing through the processes of economic integration. These are
challenges that sometimes exceed the economic aspect and often penetrate
deeply in the political and strategic spheres by bringing into play the
power relations between nations and even within nations themselves. They
remind us of other historical moments in which conflicts between countries
belonging to contiguous geographic regions led to war.
In recent decades, some of the experiences of joint and institutionalized
work between contiguous nations originated, precisely, as a way of overcoming
existing collision courses between relevant players in the same region.
This was certainly the case of the process that finally led to the creation
of the European Union and, to a certain degree, also the case of the origins
Three methodological issues seem to be the most relevant so that,
depending on how they are addressed, the current trend towards the possible
irrelevance of Mercosur can be reversed. These are: the methods for opening
the respective markets and their impact on international trade negotiations;
the institutional methodologies applied for the adoption of joint decisions
that translate into legal commitments; and the ones used to ensure that
an integration process is effectively guided by common rules.
But to render a debate on Mercosur more engaging, it would be necessary
to insert it into a broader debate on the development of effective and
efficient methods for regional cooperation, which would make it possible
to harness all the institutional potential developed in the Latin American
region and in its sub-regions (South America, Central America and the
At present, economic integration processes face complex challenges.
This is undoubtedly the case of Mercosur. At the same time, innovative
methodologies are emerging in the joint work between nations of the same
geographic region. In Asia-Pacific, for example, this is the case with
the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), to which we have
referred in our January newsletter.
On previous occasions, we have addressed the issue of the different modalities
of joint work between nations, especially if they are developed through
integration and cooperation processes within the institutional scope of
the WTO and, therefore, of its rules (see our May 2021 newsletter).
This is an issue that has acquired greater relevance in light of the
challenges observed today in the different geographic regions in which
international competition is developing through the processes of economic
integration and cooperation. These are challenges that often exceed the
economic dimension and, at times, even penetrate deeply into the political
and strategic spheres by bringing into play the power relations between
nations and even within nations themselves.
These challenges are reminiscent mostly of other historical times, when
conflicts between countries belonging to contiguous geographic regions
led to war. This was the case of the developments that took place during
the twenty years between the end of World War I and the beginning of World
War II (1918-1939).
It is a historical precedent that requires much attention today because
it can teach us something about the characteristics of the present time.
It is noteworthy because of the effects produced by changes in the distribution
of world power, especially in the degree of concentration of relative
power among the main nations, and because of the impacts produced by technological
It is worth bearing in mind that, in recent decades, some of the experiences
of joint and institutionalized work between contiguous nations originated,
precisely, as a way of overcoming ongoing collision courses between relevant
players in the same region.
In this regard, the most notable case is the beginning of the process
that led to the creation of the present European Union through the introduction
of the Schumann Plan. The Frenchman Jean Monnet, who inspired and played
a key role in the whole process, was clear about the potential risks of
an international and European situation that could, once again, affect
relations between Germany and France, in the context of the already evident
clash course that had started to develop between the United States and
the Soviet Union.
Monnet did not have academic studies but, as a businessman and for family
reasons, was knowledgeable of the international realities (for his biography,
thoughts and contributions, see his "Memoirs" written at the
end of his intense life, at the age of ninety. For more on Monnet, refer
to our October 2019 newsletter and the bibliography recommended in it).
Jean Monnet-together with Robert Schumann and Konrad Adenauer, among others-played
a decisive role in the conception of approaches that continue to have
great validity in today's international realities such as "de facto
solidarities", "pooling of resources", "working together",
and "common institutions and rules".
These are approaches that were also involved, although with huge differences,
in the process that led to the reversal of the collision course between
Argentina and Brazil, and which, under the political leadership of Presidents
Raúl Alfonsín and José Sarney, among others, led
to the initiation of the integration process that was later -and still
is -expressed in the process called Mercosur.
In practice, these are approaches that are often more relevant to understanding
how to address integration processes between nations than those that can
be derived only from concepts and categories coming, for example, from
In South America, processes such as those being developed in Mercosur
and the Pacific Alliance are also easier for their citizens to understand
-with the previously mentioned approaches and, in particular, with the
"working together" approach.
On the contrary, in the language of international negotiations, the concepts
of "free trade zone" and "customs union" have a technical
connotation that makes them more precise for the formal commitments that
are adopted, but not necessarily when it comes to making citizens understand
their real scope.
It is precisely Mercosur that is currently undergoing conceptual debates
that may not be easy for the general public to understand. These debates
require a good command of the theoretical aspects of what is supposed
to be an economic integration process that is effective, efficient and
credible for each participating country and, above all, for its own citizens.
In this regard, three methodological issues seem to be the most relevant
so that, depending on how they are addressed, the current trend towards
Mercosur's irrelevance may be reversed (on these trend see, among others,
the publication by Marcela Cristini and Guillermo Bermudez, mentioned
below as recommended reading).
Such methodological issues are: those employed for opening up the respective
markets and their impact on international trade negotiations; the institutional
ones applied for the adoption of joint decisions that translate into legal
commitments; and those used to ensure that the integration process is
effectively guided by common rules.
But, above all, in order to make the necessary debate on the future of
Mercosur more accessible, it would be necessary to insert it into a broader
debate on the development of methodologies that would help harness all
the institutional potential that has been developed in the Latin American
region and in its different sub-regions, such as South America, Central
America and the Caribbean.
It will also require, as we have pointed out on other occasions, tapping
the full potential of LAIA, including its instrument of partial scope
In addition, it will require taking full advantage of the recent Asia-Pacific
experience in the process that led to the conclusion of the RCEP negotiations
(on the RCEP, see the December 2019 and January 2022 editions of our newsletter,
including their bibliographical and documentary references).
The issue of the regime of origin in the RCEP and its link with production
chains of regional and global scope will require particular attention.
We will return to this relevant issue at a later date.
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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