I. The Mercosur level:
Is Mercosur becoming increasingly irrelevant for its original member
countries, at the economic but also at the political level?
In some way Mercosur seems to be loosing its original appeal.
As a playing field, it is perceived as to small - and to weak as a platform
to improve the capacity to negotiate and to compete at the global arena
- not only for Brazil but even for the smaller members.
1. Factors that could explain this perception:
- The original "road map" has not been fully implemented even
in its less ambitious goals: Mercosur is far to be a real common market
and the original triangle of trade negotiations (Mercosur-US-EU) has
failed at least until now;
- After Mercosur was launched the global scenario has suffer deep changes
both at the economic (i.e. WTO/DD Round; China, India and other new
protagonists; trade and investment as internal transactions within transnational
productive and services networks) and political level, (i.e. September
11 and March 11; Irak War; transnational criminal networks) and, at
the same time, South America - not only Mercosur - is not in the radar
screen that follow the main issues of the political agenda of the big
powers (i.e."2007 US-EU Summit Political Report" - April 30,
2007). But the new global landscape offer a lot of opportunities that
are available and accessible for countries rich in natural resources
as are almost all those of South America, and
- Member countries do not perceive clear "win-win" results,
as a consequence of a significant gap between the original strategic
idea and road map, and its actual achievements.
2. However, Mercosur continues to have relevance at least at three levels:
- As a source of rules that are applied to intra-Mercosur (plus Chile)
trade - in some way also investments - and to its extra-Mercosur trade
(the common external tariff);
- As a core group (Mercosur plus Chile) for political stability, open
society and democracy within the South American geographic regional
- As a symbolic reference of the idea of integration among its member
countries (nobody would like to afford the political costs of failure).
3. Even if it is less relevant than years before, it is difficult to realize
which could be a realistic and reasonable Plan B to Mercosur for each
of its original member countries, as soon as we consider simultaneously
political, economic and even legal factors. Its transformation in a kind
of FTA presents strong political, economic and even legal difficulties.
The gradual metamorphosis of Mercosur as a formal process of integration
(that in some way is already taking place) appears to be the most reasonable
approach to assure its future.
II. The South American level:
Is the South America geographic regional space becoming increasingly differentiated
as an international power subsystem (especially with respect to the Latin
American and Hemispheric spaces)?
Could it eventually replace Mercosur as the main regional playing field
for its original member countries?
In some way South America, as an international power subsystem and as
the main focal point for integration efforts, is becoming the new vedette,
particularly at the media level. But it seems that it do not have yet
a very well defined profile and sufficient attractiveness for the public
opinion of all the countries of the region.
1. Some factors that could explain its emergent relevance:
- The historical roots (Robert Burr) that even today have an influence
in some of the bilateral tensions or even conflicts (i.e. "papeleras",
Itaipu, among others);
- The new role of energy in the regional power game (plus the Chavez
- The challenges of developments leading to an eventual pax mafiosi
(They represent problems that cannot be solved only at the national
or at the Mercosur or Andean Community level, even if they could have
a strong impact in their strategies and images).
2. As a geographic regional space and as a differentiated international
power subsystem, South America presents some main traits:
- Multipolarity in terms of real power distribution among its countries
and of their capacity to be relevant protagonists (no space for hegemonic
or unilateral leadership even from abroad, i.e. US, EU, China);
- Differentiation of multiple layers of economic connectivity with
variable geometry (markets connections; energy potential complementarities
and networks; logistic and physical distribution of good; networks
of services), and
- A trend toward some dissonances (even ideological), particularly
on the concepts of open societies and democracy, on the perceptions
of external challenges and of the international power and economic
III. Some challenges ahead
1. At the Mercosur front:
- Identity (political project? economic project? a South American
- Efficacy (how to overcome the gap between political will and effective
rules and concrete results?), and
- Credibility and social legitimacy (how to convince firms to invest
for the larger market and how to build strong citizens support?)
If a Plan B doesn't exist, how to improve institutional quality and
how to conciliate methods of variable geometry and multiple speed,
with a reasonable degree of predictability on the rules of the game?
2. At the South American front:
- A certain degree of multilateral institutionalization (is the new
born South American Union the right framework?) (are other approaches
possible, i.e. a kind of Energy Charter Treaty, and best practices
for trade and investments within the LAIA framework?);
- A convergent approach for different national interests, realities
and visions (a kind of Deng Shiao-Ping philosophy: "What matters
the color of the cat as long as it catches mice"), and
- The recognition that even the South American space is small in terms
of the new opportunities and challenges represented by the global
economic competition and security agenda.
3. At each national front:
- Multilayer and dynamic external strategies;
- Social cohesion and harmony, and
- Home grown domestic productive transformation strategy.
At the Mercosur level:
- The working together through a common market idea, will require
an clever mix of instrumental flexibility and enforced collective
disciplines - quiet a challenge for the technical level of governments,
business sector and academia -;
- Mercosur could continue to be an strategic project within a larger
South American framework, but its (WTO consistent) heterodoxy will
increase, and its relevance for its member countries will strongly
depend on the quality of their own national strategies, both at the
domestic and international level.
At the South American level:
- A pattern of reasonable regional governance, will require a strong
effort to build areas of convergence among different national situations,
visions and interests - quiet a challenge for the political leadership
At each national level:
- A feasible multipolar and dynamic external strategy will require
a clear definition of domestic priorities and needs, and a good diagnostic
of which is the real margin of international action for each country,
according to its perceived value for other countries at the global
and regional level - quiet a challenge for all the political and social
protagonists and, perhaps, the main lesson to draw after almost fifty
years of dreaming with the idea of Latin America integration -.