Modelos Alternativos para la integración Sudamericana

With the advent of the new millennium, initiatives aiming at establishing an integrated economic area in South America, such as the proposal of Venezuela to join MERCOSUR, the creation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), have gained increasing political and economic importance. As opposed to the US and the neoliberal model of regional integration exemplified by NAFTA, these South American initiatives aim to create an integrated region which would increase the bargaining power of each country in negotiations with industrialized nations, and enhance social and economic cohesion in the region. However, the economic and political structures that are shaping South American integration are not necessarily coherent with their original geopolitical and social goals. The emphasis on free trade, the predominance of Brazil and its growing intra-regional trade surplus, as well as wide regional disparities, weaken the construction of an integrated economic area.

This paper critically analyzes the problems and future perspectives of integration in Latin America in light of the history of the region and in the context of the current political and economic debate on regional integration.

Section 1 discusses the different models of regional integration, highlighting their geopolitical, trade, macroeconomic and fairness dimensions. According to the author, in a neoliberal model, regional integration is shaped by unconditional free trade agreements as the means to enhance economic specialization as per static comparative advantages (i.e. to maximize the benefits from free movement of capital and goods across national frontiers) which require a growing macroeconomic coordination in monetary and fiscal policy. In a progressive model, on the other hand, regionalization is a process whereby a larger internal market creates new industries and leads to a type of specialization that aims at developing backward regions, and increasing convergence and social cohesion within the integrated economic space. However, unless a strong macroeconomic leadership (through trade and financial instruments) is exercised by the region’s strongest economy, this kind of integration is very difficult to achieve.

Section 2 briefly reviews several historical expe- riences of regionalization in Europe, Asia and North America in light of the integration models introduced in Section 1. This review sets the stage for the discussion of the recent experience of South American integration.

In this context, Section 3 focuses in particular on MERCOSUR, currently the most advanced integration initiative in the region, and UNASUR, an ambitious project aimed at creating the most comprehensive South American bloc. The author suggests that, after the prevailing neoliberal consensus in the 1990s, a number of new propositions have recently gained strength advocating integration that is closer to the progressive model described in Section 1.

The recent global financial crisis hit South Ame- rican countries in different ways. The collapse of prices of mineral commodities, the deterioration of regional terms of trade and the economic stagnation in developed countries – main export markets for the region – strongly affected the macroeconomic performance and exports of South American countries, as well as the trade within the region. Against this background, some countries have introduced protective measures to safeguard their current account balances (Argentina), while others have strengthened public control of mineral resources and gas (Bolivia). On the other hand, Brazil, the region’s largest economy and the most important Latin American actor in multilateral fora, is still defending free trade and further liberalization.

Section 4 concludes by emphasizing how, in this context, the challenge faced by UNASUR and MERCOSUR is to accommodate a growing (and inevitable) demand for national policy space, without giving up the idea to create a more articulated regional economic and political bloc based on cooperation, economic opportunities and social cohesion.

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