The challenges of regional integration in the Global South

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By CELSO AMORIM*

Preface to the recently released book by Tullo Vigevani and Haroldo Ramanzini Junior

Mercosur is one of the main foundations of regional integration. More than three decades of political, economic and social efforts went into its construction. This heritage was essential to keep the flame of regional integration alive, even when the strongest headwinds blew. However, its performance and institutionality changed over these decades. Reflecting on its role today continues to be a priority for Brazilian foreign policy.

The book by Tullo Vigevani and Ramanzini Junior sheds light on the historical process and the main arguments and social actors mobilized throughout the history of Brazilian diplomacy with regard to the integration of the countries of the La Plata basin and the region as a whole. This analysis allows us to understand the challenges and potential of the Mercosur integration process and beyond.

President Lula's new mandate has a comprehensive focus on revitalizing regional integration policy with the reconstruction of Unasur, the consolidation of Celac and the strengthening of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO). But Mercosur continues to be the mainstay of integration processes, to which we will invest much of our attention.

This agenda, which for us is the fulfillment of what is determined in the sole paragraph of article 4o. of our Federal Constitution, has been radically abandoned in recent years.

In Brazil, a denialist government attacked the rights of its own population, broke with the principles that govern our foreign policy and closed our doors to historical partners. Our country chose to isolate itself from the world and its surroundings. This stance was decisive in detaching the country from the major themes that marked the daily lives of our neighbors.

During this period, Mercosur was subject to an intense flexibilization process that ended up weakening it. Even so, it proved to be resilient: among several regional spaces that were deactivated, paralyzed or weakened, Mercosur survived the attacks of those who intended to weaken it.

The block becomes even more relevant in a global context that presents challenges of enormous complexity. The failures in international cooperation during the Covid-19 pandemic illustrate this need. Latin America was caught in its moment of greatest fragmentation, which contributed to us being among the regions most affected by the pandemic: there was a lack of vaccines, medicines, protective equipment and cross-border coordination. Each of our countries acted in isolation, without a joint strategy that could have mitigated our shortcomings.

The intensification of geopolitical rivalries between great powers in recent years has fueled the outbreak or recurrence of conflicts with global repercussions that intertwine in delicate and dangerous ways. The global rise in inflation and the cost of living worsened setbacks in the fight against hunger and poverty.

All of this occurs at a time of weakening global governance, when the world's main institutions are facing difficulties in dealing with the climate crisis and the dual energy and digital transitions.

We are also experiencing the emergence of an extreme right that is articulated at an international level, using exclusionary nationalisms to offer simplistic solutions to complex problems. The destabilization of electoral processes and the spread of hate speech affects South America in a particular way.

It is important to remember that Mercosur was born in the context of consolidation of our democracies, after decades of dictatorial regimes in our four countries. Democracy is an essential condition for the development of integration, as the first article of the Ushuaia Protocol, signed in 1998, reminds us.

Our bloc needs to return to fulfilling a stabilizing role in South America. With the political crisis in Venezuela overcoming, and we see progress in dialogues between government and opposition for the holding of presidential elections, we hope that the country can soon rejoin Mercosur .

The completion of Bolivia's accession process as a full member will allow a significant increase in the size of Mercosur, both in its economic dimension and in the political and social sphere. Mercosur shows its power of gravitational attraction and the need to continue actively relating to its associated members.

Faced with the multifaceted challenges of our times, regional integration makes us all more resilient. In addition to cooperation, it facilitates the agreement of positions so that we have a stronger voice in international forums and can better take advantage of the opportunities that arise.

In 2022, intra-Mercosur exchange totaled 46 billion dollars. It's not little, but it's below the peak recorded in 2011, of 52 billion dollars. We are below our potential. Our trade is characterized by the significant presence of industrialized products, and this is an asset that needs to be valued and expanded. The adoption of a common currency to carry out clearing operations between our countries will help reduce costs and further facilitate convergence.

The bloc also offers a robust platform to negotiate balanced extra-zone trade agreements, boosting our exports beyond raw materials, minerals and oil, and increasing the coefficient of higher value-added products.

The articulation of production processes, including energy, road and communications interconnection, guarantees more resilience in our supply chains. The Structural Convergence Fund (Focem), with which Brazil recently paid off its outstanding contributions, is particularly important in this dimension of the bloc's activities.

It will be essential to revitalize the political and social dimensions of integration, advancing cooperation in areas such as health, education, environmental protection, defense, and the fight against transnational illicit activities, including in border regions.

The construction of a more democratic and participatory Mercosur, with the strengthening of Parlasul, the Social Economic Consultative Forum, and the resumption of the Mercosur Social Summit in person after almost a decade, fosters links between legislators, businesspeople and social movements in the our countries and provides greater transparency and legitimacy to the bloc.

The reinstallation of the Consultative Forum of Municipalities and Federated States is also important so that subnational entities have a voice. Its work in border regions and in the governance of projects such as the Bioceânico Corridor is essential.

Rescuing Mercosur requires not only foreign policy initiatives, but also efforts at the domestic level. The book The challenges of regional integration in the Global South: the case of Brazilian Foreign Policy for Mercosur offers valuable input to think about both dimensions, as well as their interconnection.

By presenting an analytical assessment of Brazilian foreign policy in relation to Mercosur and regional integration in South America, the Portuguese-language edition updates the text and makes it more accessible to those who research and think about regional integration in our country. It is a valuable contribution in a context of uncertainty in the global order and in a democratic project that uses, from the beginning, research and dialogue in the construction of collective solutions.

History shows us that developing countries, united, are much greater than the challenges that afflict us.

Only the unity of Mercosur, South America and Latin America and the Caribbean will allow us to resume growth, combat inequalities, promote inclusion, deepen democracy and guarantee our interests in a changing world.

Paraphrasing Pope Paul VI in his encyclical on the progress of peoples, integration and development are the new names for peace.

*Celso Amorim ischief advisor of the Special Advisory to the President of the Republic of Brazil. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs during the governments of Itamar Franco and Lula, and of Defense of Brazil during the mandate of Dilma Rousseff..

Reference


Tullo Vigevani & Haroldo Ramanzini Junior. The challenges of regional integration in the Global South: The case of Brazilian Foreign Policy for Mercosur. São Paulo, Editora Unesp, 2023, 238 pages. [https://amzn.to/3v7rbkY]


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