The Role of MERCOSUR as a Vehicle for Latin American Integration

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

In early July 2004, the foreign and economic ministers of the four member states of the Common Market of the Southern Cone ("MERCOSUR") convened in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, for the twenty-sixth meeting of the economic integration organization's most powerful institutional body, the Council of the Common Market ("CMC").1 To a large extent, the exhilarating optimism and flowery rhetoric at the convention seemed characteristically hollow, considering that the common market has yet to achieve its first and most basic goal of establishing a common external tariff and that MERCOSUR's two largest members, Argentina and Brazil, were locked in a bitter trade dispute over the dumping of Brazilian exports. However, in a showing of interest and solidarity that highlights the recent reenergizing and politicization of the integration process in Latin America since the close of the 2003 talks for the Free Trade Area of the Americas ("FTAA"), the summit also drew the attendance of the presidents of MERCOSUR's four member states (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay), as well as leaders from MERCOSUR's associate states (Bolivia, Chile, and Peru), the presidents of Mexico and Venezuela, and representatives from other nations in the region and from around the world.2

Following its potentially momentous acceptance of Venezuela as the common market's fourth associated state,3 and with the future expansion of MERCOSUR clearly on its mind, the CMC enacted Decision 18/04 ("Decision 18/04" or "Decision"), which implements a structure whereby associate states can participate in the organizational institutions of MERCOSUR that were formerly accessible only to the four member states.4 This initiative might dispel criticism that the common market lacks the ability to expand beyond its initial members, and given the incredible enthusiasm for regional interdependence that has swept like-minded, progressive presidents into power across the continent, Decision 18/04 might also reveal that the winds of change might at last be blowing in favor of the full integration of Latin America first envisioned by Simon Bolivar.

Other events also suggest that a MERCOSUR with coherent expansion procedures might be the best mechanism for bringing that revolutionary vision of integration into reality. In mid-October, MERCOSUR and the Andean Community of Nations ("CAN") finalized a free trade agreement which effectively includes Brazil and all of the Spanish-speaking nations in South America except for Chile.5 Only ten days later, the former Argentine president and current chairman of MERCOSUR's representative council, Eduardo Duhalde, announced the December scheduling of a presidential summit to discuss the political and economic incorporation of MERCOSUR, CAN, and possibly Chile, into a South American Community of Nations ("CSN").6 Since those meetings occurred, Ecuador and Colombia have been formally granted status as associate states in MERCOSUR7 and the bloc has passed other measures that signify that it no longer views itself as a mere four-member customs union.8

Should any of these integration measures, including the CSN, be put into effect, the MERCOSUR member states, especially Argentina and Brazil, would play a primary role. Taking into consideration the bloc's economic successes and the relative strengths of its institutional structures and arbitration system, an entity along the lines of the CSN very well could be created by simply developing MERCOSUR's framework for expansion. In this regard, Decision 18/04 shows that the CMC is considering a clear program for advancing associate states' influence within MERCOSUR, and the act is a small but critical step toward the sort of active and participatory role in decision-making that would mark full and legitimate membership in a more politically orientated common market. Nevertheless, Decision 18/04 falls short of representing a wholly new identity for MERCOSUR because it leaves in place the group's original customs union structure. …