The last few times have been particularly confrontational for Mercosur. While the governments of Brazil and Uruguay are part of a front that intends to move towards a large reduction in the common external tariff (CET) and a relaxation of the rule that prevents member states of the bloc from individually negotiating trade agreements , the Argentine government called for dialogue for more moderate consensual measures that preserve the industrial and negotiating capacities of the region abroad.
We are faced with a healthily disputed Mercosur, strained by economic and political projects of capitalist development and international integration which bear different points of view on the role of integration in our Southern Cone, contrary to other interpretations which see in these tensions a kind of symptom of a state or exhaustion of the bloc, we understand that the current differences are only the expression of the always conflicting and contradictory functioning of Mercosur in the middle of a capitalist system in permanent crisis, as well as the challenges to be met in the future.
Efforts to achieve consensus have historically revolved around the big questions of why and how to integrate. As to why, due to the uneven and combined development of capitalism, we can say that Mercosur has historically sought to contribute to the national programs of capitalist development and international integration of its countries. But how can this objective be fulfilled in a context of obvious commercial, productive, financial and scientific and technological dependence? Different responses can be identified throughout the history of Mercosur.
In the mid-1980s and in a context of global recession, Argentina and Brazil took the first steps through their “sectoral protocols for inter-industry coordination”, betting on the creation of a common and united development strategy, where preferences should be reciprocal. It was about building a common market and strengthening negotiation capacity on the international scene.
But that did not last long, because from the neoliberal narrative of the crisis of those years (a crisis supposedly associated with internal rather than systemic factors), a new project emerged which, along with Paraguay and Uruguay, emerged. is called Mercosur. Based on a program for the gradual elimination of trade barriers between partners and the establishment of a CET for the creation of a single customs territory, the Mercosur of the 1990s came to strengthen national structural adjustment programs, promoting the trade and financial liberalization.
If the model of “open regionalism” adopted privileged trade figures, at the end of this decade, it is this same model that left Mercosur in a fragile situation in the face of the global financial crisis and its impacts on the economies of the United States. block.
Faced with pressure from the North American FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) project and China increasingly present in the region, Mercosur requested decision in early 2000, which reaffirms the bloc’s commitment. to jointly negotiate trade agreements with third countries and the assurance of peripheral integration exposed at any time to the abandonment of the boat of cooperation because of the political and economic interests of extra-regional powers.
It was from these first years of the new century that, in a context of a crisis of neoliberal hegemony and a favorable external situation linked to the resumption of world growth, a renewal of the “how to integrate”. operated at Mercosur. This gave rise to a new agenda which, without abandoning the bloc’s predominant trade dimension, was broadened to include themes of productive, political and social integration. In this way, it has helped to strengthen the often “invisible” network of cooperation and coordination on various public policy issues between Member States.
During its second decade of existence, Mercosur not only experienced advances in trade – where intra-regional trade increased considerably – but also in other aspects such as productive integration, structural convergence, social policy and strategic articulation with other South American countries.
But with the outbreak of the 2008 global crisis and the closure of the commodity cycle, the multidimensional integration of Mercosur has gradually given way to the resumption of open regionalism as the predominant model. This happened with the return of neoliberal ideals in state parties, which justified the reconfiguration of the bloc due to alleged institutional backwardness, economic stagnation and their countries’ isolation from value chains. global.
THE CURRENT LITIGATION OVER A SHORT-TERM AGENDA
In recent years, the short-term narrative of “modernizing” Mercosur has emerged to overcome a so-called crisis. A stagnation which, as in the 1980s, is again associated more with domestic factors than with systemic restrictions or limitations linked to the dynamics of neoliberal capitalism itself. The revision of the TCE, the relaxation of Decision 32 of 2000 and even a “revision” of the institutional structure of the bloc to make it “simpler and more efficient” are at the forefront of modernization requirements.
The TEC provided for by the Treaty of Asunción has been the subject of several exceptions which prevent the bloc from progressing towards deeper, more equitable and balanced integration agreements. Currently, in line with this trend, the supporters of a “competitive insertion in trade and the international economy” want a type of association closer to a free trade area. An association with the image and similarity of the methodology implemented by the Pacific Alliance, instead of a truly robust and complex integration from the point of view of the commitments and interests at stake.
It is the most “modern” and “flexible” Mercosur that the governments of Brazil and Uruguay have defended. A Mercosur which leaves aside the construction of a program of solidarity, reciprocity and strategic autonomy over the long term, and which, in turn, favors more “freedoms” in the short term to play individually “in a big way. field ”, as the president says Uruguayan.
However, in conditions of vulnerability and high international volatility, where the aforementioned freedom is in reality more mythical than real, we ask ourselves: is the precariousness of Mercosur the way forward for our countries? This seems to be the question which should be at the center of the regional intellectual and political debate.
Spanish translation by Maria Isabel Santos Lima
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