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Arestas do Brasil / Edges of Brazil

An eye to Latin American integration

Bruno Peron, 23 March 2017

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The Common Market of the South (MERCOSUL, as I will use the acronym in Portuguese in this text) is so adrift, loose in the sea as the Falklands were, that it oscillates between the closure of its borders (to freight trucks, for example) and the commercial appeal to the countries that are members of the Pacific Alliance (Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile). The meeting between the Argentine president Mauricio Macri and the Brazilian counterpart Michel Temer on 7 February 2017 confirms that MERCOSUL will have difficulty to palliate the protocols, treaties, amendments and agencies that increase its bureaucracy.

Such deadlock gets harder with the recent suspension of Venezuela (which barely entered the bloc and has been banned already), the risk of Uruguay searching for other integration routes, and the commercial obstacles between Argentina and Brazil. These occur more recently between the Argentine unwillingness to reduce taxes over the Brazilian sugar and automotive parts. The purpose of such common market is still distant, since it comes under the momentous pressure that producers of each country exert over the products of their competitors.

In this way, protectionism as it has been practised by more developed countries has been severely criticised while that which takes place in Latin America has been disregarded. It is a fact that Trump has withdrawn the veil of politics in the United States in many aspects: economic (protectionist barriers), sanitary (change in Obama Care) and migratory (impediment of entry to Muslims coming from seven countries). Trump’s measures as the newly empowered president have already caused trouble internally (demonstrations on the streets) and externally (a wall to be built on the border between the United States and Mexico, revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement).

In this wake of change and of political reaffirmations, Latin American leaders reorganised themselves in order to reduce damages in their relationships with wealthier countries. They have convened meetings, even to deal with alternatives to that which has been practised for years. The clearest effect of Trump’s actions affects Mexico, which finally will have the change to accept its Latin Americanness and to reduce its dependence on the North American market.

Because the international economy does not move without the fuel of politics and of the hierarchy of global power, leaders of MERCOSUL grab the tram of the crisis and of institutional stagnation. That is how the atmosphere of the meeting between Macri and Temer on 7 February 2017 exhaled the odour of economies that do not grow, of high unemployment and of the excess of bureaucracy that demotivates the development of these countries.

Curiously, the uncertain scenery of MERCOSUL awakens the interest of this bloc in speeding up commercial negotiations with the European Union (EU) and in observing the progresses of the Pacific Alliance. Although MERCOSUL has as its regulation the need to negotiate as a bloc with other countries, and thus it is less inclined to bilateral agreements, these two Latin American mechanisms of integration cannot be considered as equivalent. Between them, there are flagrant differences of economic and political orientation, from the way the presence of the United States is accepted in the region (and vice versa) to the type of opening and commercial agreements.

In spite of these ideological and political differences, Macri and Temer demonstrate their efforts for Argentina and Brazil to amplify their cooperation and solve their problems of integration without ignoring the examples coming from other groups of countries, such as the Pacific Alliance. Consequently, the formal meetings between leaders can generate more satisfactory results than a pile of minutes and protocols of the Latin American repeated bureaucracy.

Trump’s election awakens Latin America from a long-lasting sleep, which was provoked by the defects of coloniality and of subalternity. People have got used to looking at intangible references. However, I am not sure whether this rescue will be through conventional ways or not, taking into account that certain presidents were not elected democratically (for example Michel Temer) in Latin America.