Americas

Latin America

New Life for Mercosur

Kirchner, Lula, and Chavez
Argentine President Néstor Kirchner (left), Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (center), and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez (right) share a joke in front of the cameras at the Mercosur summit in Asunción, June 18, 2003 (Photo: Norberto Duarte/AFP-Getty Images).

Latin American journalists gave the ambitious reforms announced at the June 18 summit of Mercosur trade bloc leaders in Asunción mixed reviews. While trade among Mercosur members—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—has quadrupled since the bloc was founded in 1991, it has fallen since 1998 and intra-Mercosur trade still amounts to only a fifth of its members’ total trade. If instituted, the reforms would introduce revolutionary changes: Mercosur would get a regional parliament, similar to the European Union’s; it would expand to include other Latin American countries, notably Peru and Venezuela; and it would negotiate as a single body in the U.S.-led initiative to form a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Quito El Comercio (centrist), May 27: What will [Argentine President Néstor Kirchner] bring us? He said that he wants to revive the ABC axis [Argentina, Brazil, and Chile] with presidents [Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil] and  [Ricardo] Lagos [of Chile], an idea to which one must pay careful attention. His admiration for [former Chilean President Salvador] Allende was disturbing. There may be more behind his idea of our full integration with Mercosur and the adoption of a common currency...It is very likely that these utopias were planted during the roar of the election, and the government will restore the maxim of its founder, [Juan Domingo] Perón: Reality is the only truth.
—Hernán Felipe Errázuriz

Asunción Diario Noticias (independent), June 18: This conference will be a purely political affair, because the leaders of Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and our country will make clear their political willingness to work toward making Mercosur an organization that recognizes the “imbalances” in the development of individual Latin American countries and that will take effective action to minimize the impediments of these imbalances to integration. The decisions made yesterday by the foreign secretaries will be embodied in a joint declaration of the presidents that will recapture the vitality of the idea of a common market of the South….All of the Mercosur presidents came to our country yesterday. The majority agreed on giving a more political character to the bloc.

Montevideo El Observador (conservative, business-oriented), June 18: Brazil and Argentina’s proposal to create a parliament for Mercosur has dominated discussion at the summit in Asunción. But as the Uruguayan government has correctly affirmed, “To create a parliament is a generous, liberal idea, full of good intentions. But it is also an idea that is difficult to execute and requires study.”

Buenos Aires La Nación (conservative), June 18: Argentina agrees with promoting a common anti-trust law, but it opposes the elimination of anti-dumping norms that Brazil customarily demands [Argentina frequently complains that Brazil, its largest trade partner, unfairly sells goods such as steel and poultry in Argentina below their normal value]. Another way of avoiding future business conflicts would be to stabilize the economy. That is why regional government representatives and central bank presidents, meeting before the summit, decided that they would revive the idea of Mercosur members setting economic policies in concert.

Caracas El Universal (centrist), June 14: While the necessity of promoting integration is being proclaimed, initiatives and omissions that will make sure nothing more than the reinvention of the Andean Community [a 1996 regional trade and political association comprising Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela] is accomplished are being implemented. At the Mercosur summit, Jupiter [Brazil] will insist that Venezuela be admitted into that group. The imbalance between our economy and Mercosur’s would be fatal for us. Can you imagine competing with zero tariffs with the industrial and agricultural economies of Brazil and Argentina! Aside from that, one must keep in mind that in order to enter Mercosur, Venezuela must subscribe to the Protocol of Ushuaia that demands the unthinkable condition that Venezuela commit itself to representative democracy. Fat chance!
—Adolfo P. Salgueiro

Buenos Aires Buenos Aires Herald (liberal, English-language), June 18: While Lula and Kirchner may both have a firmer commitment than their predecessors to making Mercosur work, neither is in much of a position to make the sort of trade concessions needed to achieve the level of integration they are aiming for. The Brazilian economy is sluggish, mostly because the Central Bank there has been forced to keep interest rates high to prevent inflation from getting out of hand. The Argentine economy is expanding, but growth is slowing down. And without an IMF deal and the economic reforms that will require, growth will grind to a halt.
—Dan Krishock

Buenos Aires Página 12 (left-wing), June 14:The Americans killed [Abraham] Lincoln, but Lincoln had already won the war. Here we killed our hero because he lost it, and he lost it because we defeated him, and with him ourselves. In Latin America, the Creole oligarchies killed the Bolivarian dream and then killed the glorious conqueror of Ayachucho [Gen. Antonio de Sucre, a close ally of Simón Bolívar. Sucre successfully fought against the Spanish across the Andean region, and he was assassinated in 1830]. In the United States, the North won the war and formed the present union. Latin America scattered into poor nations that produce one commodity each. Then came debt. Then came the present crisis. History was as it was; nothing can change it. We are this way because of what we did. Now we must do something else. Today that second alternative has a name: Mercosur. Latin America, I hope that these lines contribute something to your fundamental ideology and to the impetus for consolidation. You alone, Latin America, are responsible for your sins. And the first step of a radically different future is the rejection of the past.
—José Pablo Feinmann

Tegucigalpa La Tribuna (liberal), June 5: While we Central Americans, who distance ourselves from the rest of Latin America and prefer to negotiate among ourselves, watch our illusions about regional associations collapse, the South Americans, led by Brazil and Argentina…reject the FTAA and prepare to strengthen Mercosur. All of this produces great frustration. Perhaps some people believe that we are happy with these discouraging events because of the effects they will have on the nationalist government. Nothing could be further from the truth, because the Hondurans will be the first to lose. We can keep thinking that the president will follow his best intentions. But good intentions clearly do not make up for the absence of a coherent government plan or the use of the authority required to straighten things out.
—Rodil Rivera Rodil

Buenos Aires Clarín (independent, mass-circulation), June 17: Economic, financial, and commercial relations, before they were subjected to rigid regulations and protectionist systems, rapidly opened...in the 1990s, and were increasingly marked by complex, shifting alliances, where old apprehensions transmuted into the fresh formulas of free trade and competition. The creation of Mercosur inscribed itself in this context. And so South American countries’ geographical proximity, their shared history, and the complementary nature of their economies served as adhesives, binding the countries together as they cooperated to confront the challenges posed by globalization. Mercosur’s composition and development are a clear example of what has been called “open regionalism.”
—Héctor Gambarotta

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