The Mercosur Quarantine

Image_Elyeser Szturm

By Leonardo Granato and Tatiana Berringer*

The Brazilian bourgeoisie forgets that, as the 1990s have already demonstrated, trade opening and the attraction of foreign investment place the State in a position of passive subordination and deepen its situation of vulnerability and dependence

In a meeting of Mercosur national coordinators, held by videoconference on April 24 of this year, the Argentine State, through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, announced its withdrawal from future negotiations of the regional bloc regarding the free trade agreements envisaged with South Korea , Singapore, Lebanon, Canada and India, among others. In a press release, the Argentine Chancellery also expressed that the uncertainty around the world and the situation of the country's economy advise the decision in question, but that it will continue, however, to monitor the progress of the Mercosur-European Union Agreement, "without entering in debates, for now, sterile”[I]. In that same communiqué, the Argentine State also reported that the referred decision differentiates it from the positions adopted by other States of the bloc that seek, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, to accelerate trade opening negotiations with other countries in the world.

It is interesting to observe how this decision derives a series of elements to be discussed, which go beyond a mere discussion of whether Argentina's "withdrawal" would "freeze" Mercosur or not.[ii] – a bloc, by the way, whose borders go beyond the dynamics of extra-regional trade. In broader terms, the decision of Alberto Fernández's government seems to reflect a state and class situation, which clashes with that of its historically strategic partner, the Brazilian State.

Without entering into a discussion about models of accumulation, class structure and dynamics of State institutions in both countries, which would exceed the limits of this text, it is possible to state that unlike what has been happening in Brazil where, faced with the skyrocketing the number of cases and deaths from Covid-19, the government of Jair Bolsonaro debates the pertinence of complete social isolation or only “vertical” isolation, Argentina has adopted, from the beginning, and with significant popular support, a mandatory complete isolation model to combat the Coronavirus, praised by the World Health Organization itself.

Even though the Argentine bourgeoisie cannot be thought of as a homogeneous whole since, after all, the pandemic has not affected all of its fractions equally, it seems feasible to say that such bourgeoisie -in particular, sectors linked to industry, commerce and to civil construction- is willing to endorse the plan to combat Covid-19[iii], in the context of the larger movement of “reconstruction of the social and economic fabric of the country” proposed by Fernández[iv]. However, the pandemic has been affecting all economies in the world, including Brazil. Thus, the particularity of the situation that the Fernández government is going through is not due to the pandemic, but to the serious economic and foreign debt crisis that has been developing since the government of Maurício Macri (2015-2019)[v], and with respect to which the New Coronavirus ends up being an aggravating factor.

Perhaps, at this point, it seems logical that a significant part of the bourgeoisie support the Fernández government’s policy of “protecting companies, jobs and the most humble families”. [vi], because, after all, it is moments of economic crisis like this that demand massive intervention by the State to avoid further social deterioration that ends up placing more obstacles than Argentina already has to the capitalist dynamics of development of the country's productive forces. Perhaps it can even be deduced with more or less clarity, in part, why the Argentine government decided not to burden itself with participation in Mercosur negotiations with the countries mentioned at the beginning of this text. We say “in part” because just as the Fernández government differs from the Bolsonaro government on how to face the current pandemic, they also do so on foreign policy priorities and in relation to Mercosur in particular.

Although aware of the historical conditions of dependence and subordination to which Latin America is subject, the Argentine State seems to have found in the decision in question a way, albeit timid, of opposing the Bolsonaro government’s plans to “open” Mercosur reintroducing the open regionalism strategy of the 1990s and promoting integration into the world economy and transnational value chains[vii]. Opening up foreign trade is for the aforementioned government much more than a campaign promise yet to be fulfilled: it is an imperative. It is an imperative of a portion of the same Brazilian internal bourgeoisie, in particular, of sectors linked to commerce, services, manufacturing industry (with the exception of the food and automotive industry) and agribusiness.[viii], which today is pressing for the resumption of economic activities, domestically, as a way of palliating the economic stagnation resulting from the pandemic in the country.

The Brazilian internal bourgeoisie, given its economic, political and ideological fragility in the face of imperialism, demonstrates fear in relation to its disappearance in the face of crises. Thus, in the midst of the current context of crisis and economic slowdown, by pushing for external trade opening and the return of internal economic activities, it hopes to maintain its profit rate and its survival in relation to external capital. However, this same internal bourgeoisie forgets that, as the 1990s have already demonstrated, trade opening and the attraction of foreign investment place the State in a position of passive subordination and deepen its situation of vulnerability and dependence. Thus, unlike the Argentine bourgeoisie, this fraction of the ruling class seems to want to behave like a compradore bourgeoisie, that is, subordinated and intertwined with imperialist interests, while, with the support of popular sectors, it could take advantage of the current situation to support policies of long-term planning and state investment, as well as a non-subordinate, necessarily more conflictive, foreign policy related to Brazil's insertion in neoliberal capitalism. And so, we return to the beginning of this comment: a Mercosur scenario that does nothing more than mirror the irreconcilable views on politics and economy of Brazil and Argentina.

*Leonardo Granato Professor of Political Science at UFRGS and coordinator of the Center for Studies in Politics, State and Capitalism in Latin America.

*Tatiana Berringer is a professor of International Relations at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC).

[I] See the press release from the Foreign Ministry of Argentina at: Accessed on: 26 abr. 2020.

[ii] See, for example: Accessed on: 26 abr. 2020.

[iii] See if: Accessed on: 26 abr. 2020.

[iv] See the press release from the Foreign Ministry of Argentina at: Accessed on: 26 abr. 2020.

[v] For more information on the post-Macri political scenario in which the policy against the Covid-19 pandemic is being developed, see the article:

[vi] See the press release from the Foreign Ministry of Argentina at: Accessed on: 26 abr. 2020.

[vii] See the speech by Minister Ernesto Araújo at the Mercosur summit that took place in Bento Gonçalves-RS on December 4, 2019: Accessed on: 26 abr. 2020.

[viii] To understand class fractions and politics against the Coronavirus pandemic, see the article:

See this link for all articles