Academic journal article Diálogos Latinoamericanos

Values, Culture and the Economic Integration of Latin America and North America: An Empirical Perspective on Culturalist Approaches*

Academic journal article Diálogos Latinoamericanos

Values, Culture and the Economic Integration of Latin America and North America: An Empirical Perspective on Culturalist Approaches*

Article excerpt


Over the past two decades Latin American countries have changed considerably. Accompanying the economic liberalization of Latin American countries- "all but one of which have become members of the World Trade Organization" (Gaviria, 2001: 304-305) - has been their increasing reliance on international trade for economic growth as measured by the increasing proportion of gross domestic product accounted for by exports; this is the case for all countries in the hemisphere, including the United States and Canada. Hemispheric interdependence has been increasing as signaled by the growing importance of intraregional trade as a proportion of total trade. The democratization of Latin American countries has been important to the growth of intraregional trade as trade has expanded to encompass more and more services as well as industrial products:

Until the 1980's ... Latin America, seemed like a poor choice for a new friend. Military governments, yo-yo economic policies and performance, grinding poverty, and dubious human rights records were convincing reasons to not compete with the Americans for gringo status in Latin America. Canada changed ... as ... the rest of the region changed. The birth of democratic regimes and economic reform created the opportunity for viable partnerships where none existed before. (Dymond, 2001: 1).

Indeed, Canada, initially less than happy at seeing the Free Trade Agreement with the United States expanded to a North American Free Trade Agreement to include Mexico, now has its very own free trade agreement with Chile.

The future emergence of a free trade area encompassing most or the entire hemisphere is a project to which most South American and North American countries look forward. Both economic liberalization and democratization are central to this project and power relations and system position loom large for all countries. As Gaviria (2001: 311) puts it, "the creation of the FTAA is based on the existence of a community of democracies in the Americas and on a convergence of political, economic, and social values." The FTAA, therefore, is as much about culture as it is about trade - strengthening democracy, reducing poverty and discrimination, and sustainable development are very much part of the negotiating package and overall objectives. Harrison (1997) contends that economic cooperation between countries depends directly on the degree of trust between them which, in turn, depends on their cultural similarity. His argument is that the United States and English-speaking Canada share an Anglo-protestant cultural heritage which explains the high degree of trust which exists between these two countries, on the one hand, and the low level of trust which he sees as existing between these two countries and the rest of the American continent, on the other. Harrison concludes that it was a mistake for the United States and Canada to allow Mexico into NAFTA, and, extending his argument, this implies that it would be a mistake to include other South American countries in free trade agreements with the United States and Canada as well.(1)

Culture and Economic Integration

In his very influential work, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Samuel P. Huntington (1996: 131) argues that economic integration is facilitated by cultural similarity and that the "overall effectiveness of regional organizations varies inversely with the civilizational diversity of their membership." The long term success of NAFTA, he argues (1996: 127), will depend on the extent to which Mexico is able to redefine itself:

In Latin America, economic associations - Mercosur, the Andean Pact, the tripartite Pact (Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela), the Central American Common Market - take on a new life, reaffirming the point demonstrated most graphically by the European Union that economic integration proceeds faster and further when it is based on cultural commonality. …

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