Sunday, December 12, 2004

Is it a state? Is it a region?

Normally this is something one asks about the EU. While giving itself all the appurtenances of a state, it also sets out its stall as a region in what it sees as the future, regionalized world politics.

Now, it seems, the EU’s rather sorry example is being copied in South America. Representatives of 12 South American countries met in the ancient Inca city of Cuzco to create an economic and political union that would give these countries a strong voice against America, Europe and Asia.

By America they mean the United States and problems have arisen about that already. The more left-leaning countries like Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela want to see the block as a counterweight to the great neighbour in the north. Others are worried about bilateral relations and do not exactly trust the likes of Venezuelan President Chavez.

In any case, the presidents of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Ecuador did not bother to attend but sent ministers, which raised the inevitable question of just how committed are they to the enterprise. The Foreign Minister of Paraguay, Leila Rachid, was not planning to sign any documents and indicated that her country was not interested in any blocs. All they did, according to her, was to create bureaucracies and South America has enough with Mercosur. Sounds a reasonable politician.

This is the third meeting of the South American leaders since 2000 when Brazil invited them all to discuss projects to link the countries through a network of highways, railways and rivers to boost trade in the region. Not much has come of that, although Peru and Brazil have now signed an agreement to finance a highway that will connect the southwest of Brazil to Peru's Pacific ports of Matarani, Ilo and Marcona.

On the whole, creating political blocs and signing ringing declarations is easier than negotiating detailed agreements that would actually raise economic productivity and living standards in that potentially very rich continent. After all Mercosur and the Andean Community, the two regional trade blocs have been unable to come to any kind of an agreement on lowering tariffs and opening up trade. In fact the two organizations cannot agree on common tariffs for their own members. So the politicians have decided to go for the other option – an economic and political bloc that would give them the right to throw their weight around in the world and never mind the people of their countries.

Then again, there is word that there will be a pan-American free trade area agreement signed some time next year. How will all these regional blocs and power-hungry politicians fare then?

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