Category Archives: Regional Integration

AS/COA – The United States and Mexico: The Path Forward

Michael Werz and Eric Farnsworth / Center for American Progress


November 30, 2012


Mexico inaugurates a new president on Saturday—Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party. Given the early lead he enjoyed during the campaign and the public fatigue with the ruling National Action Party, Peña Nieto, the former governor of the state of Mexico, ran on generalities and never clearly defined his political philosophy or presidential agenda. Much of what he campaigned on could be boiled down to two statements: “I’m not the National Action Party, and I’m not the old Institutional Revolutionary Party.”

Good enough, as far as the election result goes: Peña Nieto was elected with close to 40 percent of the vote, a plurality but not a majority—in part because many voters retain a strong distrust of the Institutional Revolutionary Party and its autocratic past. It is now up to the president-elect to fill in the blanks as to what kind of president he will be. If all goes well, he could be transformational. But obstacles loom and initial expectations must be held in check.

The country has solid standing. Economic growth is strong and projections show continued expansion, surpassing even Latin American darling Brazil. The middle class is growing, with greater access to goods and services and the ability to purchase them. Manufacturing is moving back to Mexico from China, with Mexico becoming a platform both for production in North America and also in Latin America. The country has also become a leading voice in global trade, as well as economic and environmental initiatives. Mexico is becoming economically what it has always been geographically: the crucial link between North and South America.

The outgoing government has effectively used its final days in office to promote a reform agenda consistent with Peña Nieto’s stated views. Mexico has one of the longest transition periods of any democracy—five months. While outgoing governments have traditionally done little during this period, this particular transition period has proven different, particularly with regard to the charged issue of strong protections for labor that have been loosened through new legislation in recent weeks.

Working together, the National Action Party executive and the Institutional Revolutionary Party-controlled legislature have joined to give the incoming Peña Nieto government a strong tailwind toward economic opening and greater competition, without having to pay the political cost that labor reform might otherwise have entailed. At the same time, north of the border, President Barack Obama has spoken clearly of his desire for meaningful immigration reform this year, which would provide another significant political and economic boost to the new Mexican president.

With labor reform out of the way, attention turns to the three policy fields that Peña Nieto has promised to address, perhaps all at once: energy reform, tax reform, and Social Security reform. Should he succeed in addressing these issues effectively, he will have restructured a significant part of Mexico’s economy, preparing Mexico for an economic takeoff that could rival Asian economies.

This effort brings risk as well as promise, since failing with these fundamental reforms could throw Peña Nieto’s presidency into turmoil at its inception. Each of these reforms individually would be enough to occupy the Presidential Palace Los Pinos for months and to soak up the political capital of any president. Doing all of them together would be a political project more involved than any other since the Institutional Revolutionary Party first restructured Mexico’s economy in the 1930s. Clearly, the political stakes are huge.

A major obstacle to reform could be the Institutional Revolutionary Party itself. Party discipline will largely ensure a supportive if not compliant congressional delegation, but party bosses, governors, and individual congressional representatives, among others, will likely seek to ensure that their political equities are protected in any reform process. Peña Nieto’s challenge will be to keep them in line, using traditional tools of political coalition building without stepping over the line into corruption. A number of younger, newly elected members of the Mexican Congress in the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution have indicated that the deepening of democratic reform is their main priority and that there might be room for cooperation with President-Elect Peña Nieto should he push this agenda.

The fate of the reform agenda will arguably be the new president’s greatest and most immediate test. He faces a Mexican public that no longer tolerates the old ways of doing politics in Mexico and is skeptical that the Institutional Revolutionary Party has truly changed. But equally importantly, the party has been out of power for 12 years and its leaders now want and expect to receive the rewards that national power bestows. It will be a delicate balancing act for Peña Nieto. But his inauguration also has implications for U.S.-Mexico relations, which will play out on both sides of the border.

The Path Forward

Given this backdrop, the new Mexican president needs major political and policy successes in 2013 to consolidate power within his own party and secure congressional majorities for an ongoing economic reform process. Here, the United States has an important role to play: The two countries are intertwined in a unique way and thus the political success of Enrique Peña Nieto will, at least in part, be impacted by what happens north of the border. And the to-do list for the United States is extensive, but it is largely focused on economic policy and immigration reform.

Immigration reform is increasingly likely to dominate the domestic debate once the fiscal cliff is resolved. President-Elect Peña Nieto made a strong endorsement of immigration reform at his Washington press conference with President Obama this week, stating that he fully supportsPresident Obama’s proposal. Even though a strong majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country, it will remain a difficult legislative battle. And while aligning with a popular U.S. president who will be viewed as fighting to legalize Mexican nationals makes obvious sense, there is some risk that a failed legislative effort will trigger collateral damage to Peña Nieto’s image in Mexico.

On the economic front, the success of the new Mexican administration’s economic reform and growth agenda is a core interest of the United States. A number of policy fields will be crucial to create a successful North American growth model and will elevate the transactional partnership with Mexico to a strategic relationship much like the United States enjoys with Canada. To achieve this goal, both countries must address a number of issues simultaneously.

  • The creation of jobs will play a central role in domestic politics in both countries. U.S-Mexican trade needs to be encouraged in the border region and beyond. To achieve this, the U.S.-Mexican border needs to be more permeable and allow more crossings at lower cost.
  • To secure energy independence, both countries need to prioritize research and development investments to ensure that technologies that facilitate access to shale gas—such as horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracking—do not adversely affect the environment. This is a necessary step to move forward with the development of massive North American shale gas resources—a potential strategic game-changer.
  • Mexican states along the U.S. border are official observers in the Western Climate Initiative, joining California and four Canadian provinces. The federal governments in both the United States and Mexico should take aggressive steps to make it more feasible for these Mexican states to become full partners in the initiative to achieve meaningful reductions in carbon pollution and move toward greater U.S.-Mexican cooperation on future North American pollution cuts.
  • Both countries need to expand their economic relations with Asia and Europe. President-Elect Peña Nieto sees China as an important future partner for economic growth. Both Mexico andCanada were invited in June to join the negotiations toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership—an important if belated step. Both should also be included at the very beginning of discussions with Europe—should they occur as has been rumored—toward the creation of a free trade zone in the Atlantic. Such trade negotiations would provide an added means for the three North American economies to build cooperation.
  • The war against cartels and gangs involved in the illegal drugs trade continues to rage on both sides of the border, although indications of progress include a reduction in violence, cleaned-up cities, and increasing professionalization of the Mexican security forces. Achieving a reduction of violence will be a key challenge for President-Elect Peña Nieto, with street protests demanding as much. Judicial reform is moving forward, albeit slowly, but Mexican authorities still rely too greatly on confession by apprehended suspects and have deficits in the acquisition and use of intelligence. This fight needs to be framed as a joint challenge, emphasizing the co-responsibility of the United States, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed several times.
  • The re-launch of a U.S.-Mexican bilateral commission would be an important vehicle to institutionalize cabinet-level discussions across the broad range of issues that affect our countries and maybe trilateralize along with Canada from time to time. Tone and perception count a lot in the bilateral relationship. In addition, both sides should establish permanent working groups to help change the image and perception of Mexico in the United States and vice versa. Such an engagement in public diplomacy could include messaging and outreach to counter the often-distorted perception of Mexican society in the United States.

The election of Enrique Peña Nieto and the re-election of President Obama mean that the U.S.-Mexican relationship has a unique opportunity to grow closer and bring numerous benefits to both sides of the border. To fully appreciate this unique opportunity, both sides must invest political capital and be prepared to engage domestic public opinion when it comes to explaining why our countries are united by much more than a fence.

Eric Farnsworth is vice president of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society, heading their Washington, D.C., office since 2003. His areas of expertise include the role of Asia in the Americas, trade, energy, U.S. policy in the region, and national security affairs.

Michael Werz is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where his work as a member of the National Security team focuses on the nexus of climate change, migration, and security, as well as on emerging democratic powers in Turkey, Mexico, Brazil, and India.

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AS/COA – Viewpoints: What Should the Top Priority Be for U.S.-Mexican Relations?

ecember 03, 2012


With Enrique Peña Nieto taking the reins in Mexico and Barack Obama’s reelection the United States, what should the two leaders focus on in terms of bilateral ties? Many observers say the time is ripe to strengthen relations: Last year, U.S.-Mexican trade ties broke new records, hitting $500 billion in bilateral trade in goods and services; news outlets offer glowing praise for Mexico’s economic outlook; and strong support from the Latino electorate for Obama’s candidacy could help boost prospects for U.S. immigration reform early in his second term.

As new administrations take shape in both countries, 9 prominent Mexican and U.S. experts share what they believe the top goals should be for U.S.-Mexican relations. From opportunities presented by the Trans-Pacific Partnership to a reconsideration of outdated perceptions on both sides of the border, from infrastructure projects that could boost cross-border trade to a renewed focus on North American integration, these high-level officials and analysts provide their perpectives on how the two governments can deepen ties.

View expert contributions:

Rafael Fernández de Castro, Chair, Department of International Studies, ITAM


It is Peña Nieto’s task to help Obama create the foundation for immigration reform, not with demands but through actions.”


Brand new President Enrique Peña Nieto has three priorities in Mexico’s bilateral relations with the United States.

The first priority is to take advantage of the opportunity that was created by the weight of the Hispanic vote in favor of Barack Obama’s reelection to achieve immigration reform. It is Peña Nieto’s task to help Obama create the foundation for immigration reform, not with demands but through actions. He must therefore align Mexico’s objectives with those of the United States: they must consistently seek legal, safe and orderly migration. Furthermore, he must do some serious housekeeping, preventing abuses against Central American migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. And, he must develop a stable southern border, one that counts with a state presence and adequate infrastructure. The spirit of the transformation of the southern border must preserve the positive aspects of border integration processes while achieving efficiency in formal operations that will allow it to triumph over illegality.

The second priority is to take advantage of more favorable economic winds in both Mexico and the United States. Peña Nieto must prioritize an agenda of economic integration and greater regional competitiveness. The Mexican and Canadian entry into the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations signify an opportunity to harmonize stances between the three members of NAFTA to amplify markets in Asia. Mexico will be hosting the 2013 North American Leaders Summit, and Peña Nieto should thus be able to push a new regional strategic agenda that includes safer and efficient borders and the standardization of production.

The third priority is to maintain the aid flows that help combat organized crime and drug trafficking in the face of a U.S. fiscal crisis that can threaten these resources. Here Peña Nieto must emphasize three elements: agree with Washington’s priority that it help strengthen Mexico’s law enforcement institutions (police, judges, and prisons); develop a regional vision that includes Central America; and insist on an open debate that finally puts the decriminalization of drugs on the table.

Rafael Fernández de Castro is chair of the international studies department at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (Autonomous Technological University of Mexico—ITAM).

Antonio Garza, Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico

A first step is to get rid of outdated perceptions—on both sides.”

Tony GarzaThe United States and Mexico have enjoyed a very healthy and respectful relationship. On issues of shared interest—primarily trade and security—we’ve cooperated, though mostly out of necessity. Yet neither country has ever truly leveraged the bilateral relationship strategically.

What will it take to bring about this kind of fundamental shift? A first step is to get rid of outdated perceptions—on both sides. You simply can’t expect to have a strategic relationship that functions in real time if perceptions lag present realities. There’s been new research and insightful commentaryrecently highlighting the gap between Americans’ perceptions of Mexico and the country’s current reality.

President Enrique Peña Nieto faces the daunting task of moving Main Street U.S. perceptions of Mexico closer to where the views of economists, investors, and discerning travelers are on the country. He will help this along by conveying his administration’s absolute commitment to carrying through promised economic reforms, implementing anti-corruption and transparency initiatives, and reinforcing cooperation on security.

For President Obama, it’s important to signal that his new team is completely schooled in the reality of today’s Mexico and that they are prepared to take advantage of the moment to recast the relationship to the benefit of both countries. Delivering on immigration reform and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement are rare opportunities for a U.S. administration to fundamentally alter Mexicans’ perceptions of their northern partner.

As Mexico’s place in the world rises and the U.S. continues to recalibrate its foreign alliances, there’s a unique opportunity to move the bilateral relationship to a more strategic level—but it will take some work.

Antonio Garza is former U.S. ambassador to Mexico (2002-2009). He is counsel in the Mexico City Office of White & Case and is chairman of Vianovo Ventures, a cross-border consultancy.  Ambassador Garza is online at

James Jones, Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico


North America sits near the pinnacle of its greatest economic strength in history.”


James JonesThe overarching goal of our bilateral relationship should be to thoroughly integrate the economies of North America. Democracy and security are strengthened when commerce flows and grows. This creates wealth, opens new jobs, and establishes better personal relationships in both countries. To achieve this, we can work together to reduce the regulatory barriers to efficient trade by harmonizing cross-border regulations and modernizing border infrastructure.

The U.S. must pass comprehensive immigration reform that recognizes reality in our labor needs and legal protections for immigrants who are here helping build our economy. The U. S. must implement a debt reduction program combining serious spending cuts and revenue increases to give certainty and new impetus to growing our economy. Mexico must implement judicial and law enforcement reforms that will give confidence to businesses and citizens that a rule of law prevails there. Energy reforms are needed to attract private capital to fully realize Mexico’s abundant opportunities. Mexico needs tax reform that increases revenue, reduces the informal economy, and provides the framework to close the deep wealth divide among its citizens. To accomplish this and to further reduce the 40 million living in poverty, Mexico needs to make massive investments in infrastructure and quality education. Mexico’s growing middle class is impressive but to expand that even more will create market and economic power that will be the envy of the hemisphere.

North America sits near the pinnacle of its greatest economic strength in history. Together we can take it to the top.

James R. Jones is the chairman and CEO of ManattJones Global Strategies and the former U.S. ambassador to Mexico (1993-1997).

Beatriz Leycegui, Senior Fellow, International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development:


Mexico and the United States cannot fight geography.”


Beatriz LeyceguiOne of their top priorities should be to address with a greater sense of urgency the bilateral and North American competitiveness agenda. The Mexican and U.S. economies are highly integrated and interdependent. If their economies do well, the impact on job creation is immediate. The U.S. is Mexico’s most important export market; Mexico is the U.S.’s second most important export market. Of every dollar the U.S. imports of Mexican goods,40 percent have American content, in comparison to China’s (4 percent), Brazil’s (3 percent), or India’s (2 percent).

Due to the reduction in the differential in labor costs between Mexico and China (in 2003, it stood at 237 percent; in 2010, at 13.8 percent) and increases in energy and transport costs, investment and production are returning to North America.

The most important elements of the North American competitiveness agenda should include: expediting the work to create a twenty-first-century border (infrastructure, risk management, pre-clearance, customs cooperation); strengthen regulatory cooperation (mutual recognition of regulations); liberalization of strategic services (e.g. telecommunications, air, land and sea transportation), and the improvement in the enforcement of intellectual property laws. The Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations can be an opportunity to advance some of these issues.

Mexico and the United States cannot fight geography. Why would Mexico forego the benefit of being next to the most important economy of the world? Why would the United States ignore the possibility of further integrating with a country that has proven to be a partner in production more than a competitor?

Beatriz Leycegui is a Senior Fellow at the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development in Geneva. She served as Mexico’s undersecretary for foreign trade at Mexico’s Ministry of Economy for five years (2006-2011).

Diana Negroponte, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution:

[F]acilitate the anticipated tripling of cross-border trade.”

Diana NegroponteDeepening the trade relationship and facilitating the shipment of component parts between Mexico and the United States requires the creation of access roads some eight miles ahead of the principal border crossings. With electronic submission of customs/immigration documentation and with electronic seals on transnational containers, trucks filled with bilaterally manufactured products can more rapidly pass across the border. Currently, the trucks are delayed principally for lack of access roads leading up to the border, especially on the Mexican side.

In order to construct these roads, private-public partnerships are needed.  The NADBANK, established 20 years ago to support environmental projects, is the best placed to mobilize these partnerships. The bank’s bylaws permit this. However, the environmental impact needs to be interpreted broadly. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could recognize that new roads relieve the congestion and high levels of air pollutants at the border crossing itself. Use of access roads may spread pollution further inland, but the levels of pollutants will be significantly lower than those currently suffered each side of the Rio Grande.

NADBANK’s initiative and the White House leadership to facilitate EPA approval could lead to the development of access roads and decongestion at the actual border. Mexican presidential encouragement to NADBANK’s directors to seek PPPs and U.S. presidential urging to the EPA for a broad interpretation of its mandate could result in a decade’s work of new infrastructure projects. This will facilitate the anticipated tripling of cross-border trade as both countries negotiate a Trans-Pacific Partnership and Mexico negotiates a Pacific Trade Alliance with its South American partners.

Presidential decisions to advance on instructing NADBANK to move forward with PPPs for these infrastructure projects are relatively easy. Their consequences will enhance the trade and prosperity of both nations.

Formerly a trade lawyer and professor of history, Diana Negroponte is a nonresident senior fellow with the Latin America Initiative under Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Shannon O’Neil, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations


“[Expanding production links will] enable companies to become more globally competitive, benefiting businesses, workers, and ultimately the economies of both nations.”


Shannon O'NeilMexico and the United States should focus on deepening economic ties. Commercial interdependence is already substantial, with nearly a half trillion dollars’ worth of goods crossing the border each year. Some 80 percent of Mexico’s exports go north, and for nearly half of U.S. states, Mexico is the number one or two destination for exports— supporting an estimated 6 million American jobs today.

These exports are more often than not pieces and parts—not finished goods—evidence of the regional supply chains developing in North America. In fact, 40 percent (on average) of every product imported from Mexico is really “made in America.” This compares to just 4 percent in goods from China.

Facilitating and expanding these production links will require making cross-border trade more efficient through investments in border infrastructure, standardized regulations (so that countries do not need fulfill similar requirements in both countries), and common customs forms, among other efforts. But they will also enable companies to become more globally competitive, benefiting businesses, workers, and ultimately the economies of both nations.

Shannon O’Neil is the Douglas Dillon Fellow for Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and publishes the blog

Ambassador Arturo SarukhanMexican Ambassador to the U.S.


[W]e need to continue strengthening the participation and commitment of civil society and the private sector across our common border, as they are true co-stakeholders in our bilateral efforts toward economic progress.


Arturo SarukhanOver the past two decades, NAFTA has dramatically altered the way Mexico and the United States engage with one another. However, much more can and should be done to bring North American competitiveness back to a starring role on the global stage. This is why the participation of all three North American countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be so important. The TPP will enable us to discuss measures that meet the needs and challenges of twenty-first-century free and fair trade, such as compatibility of regulatory systems, new environmental provisions, strong protection for intellectual property rights, and emerging areas such as digital technologies and e-commerce. The TPP will further deepen and strengthen the integrated supply and production chains between our two countries. And as a true coalition of the free-trade willing in the Americas and across the Pacific Rim, the TPP therefore represents the next step in a North American Grand Strategy. In addition to the TPP, we need to continue strengthening the participation and commitment of civil society and the private sector across our common border, as they are true co-stakeholders in our bilateral efforts toward economic progress.

I am convinced that Mexico and the United States are very well-positioned to make progress on the economic agenda. During the past six years, we have developed a solid bilateral relationship, based on the principle of shared responsibility, and with unprecedented levels of cooperation. This spirit of collaboration, together with NAFTA and soon TPP, leave Mexico and the United States on a strong footing to profit from the economic opportunities before us, and to and tackle our common challenges together.

Arturo Sarukhan has served as Mexico’s ambassador to the United States since February 2007. He previously served as chief of policy planning at the Foreign Ministry and as Mexican consul general to New York.

Charles Shapiro, President, Institute of the Americas


“It is time for [President Barack] Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto to transform U.S.-Mexican bilateral relations into a true partnership.”

Charles ShapiroAt the 2009 Summit of the Americas, President Barack Obama stressed that he wanted a relationship of equals. It is time for Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto to transform U.S.-Mexican bilateral relations into a true partnership.

The headlines always go to energy, drugs, and immigration. And yes, Mexican leaders must figure out how to produce more oil and natural gas. Yes, the United States must reduce our appetite for drugs and control the illicit export of weapons and drug money. U.S. politicians will reform our immigration policy when they understand that we need Mexican workers and that anti-Latino sentiments will cost them elections.

What is vital, if less sexy, is to realize that Canada, Mexico, and the United States are one economic entity. The focus must be on North American competitiveness. While respecting national sovereignty, we need to recognize that supply chains straddle borders. The manufactured exports of each contain components from all three. NAFTA was the cutting edge laptop of 1992. It’s time for the North American equivalent of the iPhone 5. We must accelerate the movement of sub-components and finished products (and tourists) across our borders. We need to make it easier for technicians to work temporarily in each other’s countries. We need to harmonize our regulations and standards. Together the three nations need to develop markets with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the European Union, APEC, and the Pacific Alliance. That’s how to generate growth in all three North American nations.

Charles Shapiro is president of the Institute of the Americas, a public policy think tank at the University of California San Diego. He is a retired U.S. diplomat and served as U.S. ambassador to Venezuela (2002-2004).

Eric Farnsworth, Vice President, AS/COA


“A joint economic agenda is now more achievable than before.”

Eric Farnsworth“Should be” and “will be” have frequently been two very different things in the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship. The coming year offers the opportunity for a new approach.

For their own domestic purposes and in the wake of their respective elections, the United States should quickly tackle immigration reform while Mexico should liberalize its energy sector.

In terms of the bilateral relationship, however, both governments (including their legislatures) should recognize the nature of economic integration that has occurred since NAFTA, making our two economies virtually inseparable, along with Canada, as a joint production platform. This new reality should both be celebrated and also enhanced. Joint approaches within the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations can be a means to achieve NAFTA 2.0. If coupled with a North American approach to potential trade negotiations with the EU, North American economic integration can advance to a point unthinkable even a few short years ago. With continued economic and commercial pressure from China, India, and elsewhere, this approach will support the long-term economic well-being of the United States and North America more broadly.

A joint economic agenda is now more achievable than before. The Hispanic community in the United States has found its voice politically, manufacturing is returning to the United States due to lower prices for natural gas, and, despite ongoing concerns about violence and the drugs trade, Mexico is doing well enough economically to entice investors back from China. Now is perhaps the best opportunity in recent memory to intensify economic collaboration. It should be the top bilateral priority.

Eric Farnsworth is vice president of Americas Society/Council of the Americas in Washington DC. From 1995 to 1998, he was senior adviser to the White House special envoy for the Americas.

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BBC – Venezuela en el Mercosur: optimistas, pesimistas y todos los demás

Abraham Zamorano

BBC Mundo, Caracas

Martes, 31 de julio de 2012

Lo último que se esperaban los parlamentarios paraguayos cuando depusieron a Fernando Lugo era que servirían en bandeja el acceso de Venezuela al Mercosur, pero así fue, casi a trompicones.

El presidente Hugo Chávez certifica este martes en Brasilia la entrada de Venezuela al bloque mientras en su país está abierto un intenso debate entre optimistas y pesimistas.

Chávez, a la cabeza de los optimistas, habla de “una bendición” que va a generar cientos de miles de empleos y que puede atraer la instalación en su país de grandes empresas brasileñas y argentinas atraídas por la energía y la materia prima barata con puertas al Caribe.

Los más pesimistas, economistas e internacionalistas –muchos de oposición– lo dudan porque recuerdan que Venezuela es una economía monoexportadora de petróleo (que representa hasta el 95% de lo que vende al exterior) y muy dependiente de las importaciones (hasta el 70% de los alimentos que consume viene de fuera). Aseguran que el ganador evidente es Brasil.

Más allá de ese debate, están las dudas en torno a cómo van a encajar en el Mercosur los acuerdos económicos de Caracas con China, dónde queda la Alianza Boliviariana de las Américas (ALBA) o las intenciones del presidente Chávez de salirse del Sistema Interamericano de Derechos Humanos.

En cualquier caso, por delante quedan largas negociaciones pues el protocolo de adhesión, firmado en 2006, contempla que Caracas tendrá cuatro años para adaptarse a los muchos cambios que derivarán de incorporarse al bloque sudamericano.

Los Optimistas

Quienes reciben con satisfacción la entrada de Venezuela al bloque destacan que la superpotencia petrolera, en tanto una economía de tamaño medio, aportará energía y equilibrios a lo que hasta ahora eran dos grandes (Argentina y Brasil) ante dos pequeños (Paraguay y Uruguay). “Su incursión en el bloque regional rompe ese círculo vicioso”, afirmó el brasileño Emir Sader.

Según el analista e internacionalista Nícmer Evans, “Venezuela entra en un momento perfecto para ser además, dentro de la polaridad entre las dos grandes potencias, ser un punto medio perfecto, una bisagra que va a permitir estabilizar aún más, generar más equilibrio”.

“Mercosur nace con esencia neoliberal, no lo podemos negar, pero ha evolucionado como consecuencia de las disparidades, los mecanismos de integración han tenido que irse afinando para evolucionar de una estructura de competencia y libre mercado a una solidaridad y complementariedad que toma en cuenta las asimetrías, si no fuese así, ya Uruguay y Paraguay estarían quebrados y no tendrían beneficios de mantenerse”, le dijo Evans a BBC Mundo.

Evans no niega la debilidad del sector exportador no petrolero de Venezuela, pero se muestra optimista ante el hecho de que “se abre un mercado de 400 millones de personas”. “Y de principio podemos potenciar energéticamente al granero del mundo en función de las búsquedas de los equilibrios”.

“El Estado está empezando a asumir la inversión para la expansión de la capacidad productiva y tener capacidad de exportación. Eso no va a pasar de un día para otro, tendrá que pasar un mediano tiempo, pero se abre la posibilidad”, comentó.

“Los que critican el ingreso al Mercosur son los que aplaudirían el ingreso al ALCA. ¿Qué es más perjudicial entrar a competir con EE.UU. o tratar de generar un mercado de equilibrios y compensaciones con Argentina, Brasil, Uruguay y Paraguay? Sin duda alguna, nuestros vecinos y hermanos son la alternativa lógica”.

Los Pesimistas

Sobre todo desde las filas de la oposición a Hugo Chávez se han alzado voces críticas con la adhesión al Mercosur, con la forma aparentemente precipitada en que al final ha resultado y con la perspectiva de peligros que puede representar para el sector productivo interno la apertura del mercado sudamericano.

Las exportaciones no petroleras de Venezuela no alcanzaron los US$4.500 millones. Es decir, de cada US$100 que entraron al país, US$95 provenían de petróleo. Las importaciones representaron casi el 33% del Producto Interno Bruto. Esto, junto a una inflación de más del 25% y una moneda sobrevaluada por el estricto control de cambios se traduce en una debilidad severa de la capacidad exportadora de cualquier cosa que no sea petróleo.

Así, a los países del Mercosur no se les escapa el apetecible mercado que representará Venezuela, a priori, incapaz de competir fuera de sus fronteras.

“Preocupa el efecto en la industria nacional, que no puede competir en buena lid por los controles de precios y cambiarios, que va a seguir funcionando. Temo que va a destruir muchas empresas nacionales, que están muy controladas y perturbadas en su funcionamiento”, le dijo a BBC Mundo Jorge Luis Suárez, experto en integración internacional.

Además, lo que desde el chavismo se ve como positivo, el hecho de que el Mercosur amplíe sus fronteras más allá de lo estrictamente económico y el impulso que Venezuela pretende dar en ese sentido, en la oposición se denuncia como prueba de las oscuras intenciones del mandatario.

“Para Chávez, más que la incorporación a un esquema de integración, el ingreso es un fin político. Él ha dicho que quiere un Mercosur moderno y quiere que se ocupe más de cuestiones políticas”, le dijo a BBC Mundo el diplomático e internacionalista Adolfo Taylhardat.

Y todos los demás

Con la integración venezolana, Chávez pone sobre la mesa las mayores reservas probadas de petróleo del mundo, pero también un no demasiado transparente acuerdo económico con China así como su compromiso con la Alianza Bolivariana para América (ALBA).

Según Nícmer Evans, “Mercosur no limita la posibilidad de la profundización o la autodeterminación de las políticas estratégicas con otros países sin necesidad de que sean del bloque”.

“Aun cuando el Mercosur tiene una política específica con China, Venezuela tiene otra que quizás pueda servir para discutir si el bloque se pliega o se mantienen como están. La relación de Venezuela y China tiene condiciones distintas al resto, pero no hay limitación seguramente deberá establecerse mecanismos de control”, agrega el analista.

No en vano, en principio, como es natural en todo bloque, el Mercosur negocia este tipo de tratados en conjunto. Así, los acuerdos de Caracas con terceros no son en esencia incompatibles con el grupo sudamericano, pero tienen que ser estudiados para determinar su validez.

“A futuro, el Mercosur va a poder exigir revisar ciertos tratados que considere que choquen con su bloque”, afirma Suárez. “También lo de China, aunque pudiera ser que se observe que hay compatibilidad, para eso es necesario un inventario que debió haberse hecho antes de decidir entrar o no”.

Según el experto en integración, “ha pasado un poco lo de ponerse primero los zapatos y luego las medias”, pues no ha habido tal inventario de los ajustes debidos: “Ha habido mucho interés político y petrolero en lugar de verdadera revisión de la situación”.

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Reuters – Analysis: Venezuela joins trade bloc big on politics, protectionism

By Guido Nejamkis

BUENOS AIRES | Mon Jul 30, 2012 3:06pm EDT

(Reuters) – The South American trade group Mercosur welcomes Venezuela as its newest member this week but growing protectionism in the bloc’s leading economies and political posturing have reduced it to a shadow of its former self.

When regional heavyweights Argentina and Brazil teamed up with Paraguay and Uruguay to form the customs union in 1995, they hoped to boost regional trade and investment by forging a bigger market along the lines of the European Union.

Trade within Mercosur has since quadrupled to $51 billion in 2011 but with economic growth slowing and Argentina and Brazil locked in a series of trade disputes over everything from cars to olives, analysts expect it to fall this year.

“Argentina is seen as hostile to foreign capital, Paraguay is fragile and unstable, Uruguay has an open economy but it’s very small, and Brazil continues to draw investment. Mercosur, as a whole, does not,” said Jose Botafogo Goncalves, a former Brazilian diplomat and representative to the bloc.

The decision last month to allow Venezuela’s entry into Mercosur stirred further controversy within the group and fueled criticism that it has become little more than a political club for left-leaning leaders who harbor ambitions of Latin American unity.

Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez shares such ideals but his country’s membership, pending since 2006, had been blocked because it did not have the support of Paraguay’s Congress, dominated by rightist parties.

When the same Congress ousted leftist President Fernando Lugo in a lightning-quick impeachment trial in June, the other Mercosur countries suspended Paraguay from the trade bloc and took advantage of its absence to let Venezuela in.

Mercosur will formally welcome Venezuela into the fold at a presidential summit in Brasilia on Tuesday.


When Mercosur got its start, the only products that were exempted from free trade were automobiles and sugar.

All other goods were supposed to be traded freely within the bloc or gradually stripped of duties, a goal that was largely met until Argentina expanded the use of non-automatic import licenses in 2011 and imposed a new system to pre-approve nearly all purchases abroad in February.

Last month, Brazil and Argentina got Mercosur’s approval to raise import tariffs on up to 200 products of their own choosing, further diluting the objective of a common tariff, on the grounds that each nation must protect its industry as economies get hit by fallout from Europe’s debt crisis.

Trying to safeguard its cherished trade surplus, Argentina has used the non-automatic licenses and new approvals system to block imports, affecting goods such as farm machinery and textiles from Brazil and shoes and food products from Uruguay.

It is a clear violation of Mercosur norms, but the response from within Mercosur has been muted grumbling and a raft of reprisals by Brazil’s government, which like Argentina is under pressure to revive flagging local industry.

Brazil has sporadically restricted the entry of some Argentine goods, including fruit, olive oil and cookies.

The decision by Argentina and Brazil to virtually abandon the common external tariff – the backbone of Mercosur – allows individual members to raise tariffs as high as 35 percent, compared with current levels of about 10 percent to 12 percent.

“Argentina has a protectionist model, taking tariffs to 35 percent. It doesn’t allow imports and it’s methodology differs greatly from the original spirit of Mercosur,” said Sergio Abreu, a former government minister in Uruguay.


For international companies using regional bases to supply the Mercosur market, the protectionist hurdles among member states are wreaking havoc.

“In the new Mercosur, foreign investment is discouraged,” Abreu said.

Canada-based McCain Foods, the world’s largest producer of French fries, laid off hundreds of workers at its Buenos Aires plant last month because Brazilian trade barriers were preventing it from supplying Burger King and McDonald’s branches across the border.

“They had to supply the Brazilian market from Canada and Europe and rent warehouse space to store some of the production that they couldn’t sell,” a spokesman in Buenos Aires said.

The squabbles between Mercosur’s two heavyweights have also proved a headache for the bloc’s smaller members.

All three of Uruguay’s car assembly plants – run by Chery Socma, Nordex SA and Effa Motors – have threatened to close and have laid off hundreds of employees since October, when import restrictions in Argentina and Brazil began taking a toll on their shipments.

McCain set up shop in Argentina in 1995 with an eye on the lucrative market in Brazil, Latin America’s biggest economy with a population of about 200 million.

Access to Brazil’s market once allowed Argentina to attract investment that would not have landed there otherwise, particularly in the food-processing and automotive sectors.

“But the way things are now, Argentina will probably have more trouble getting investments that were aimed at tapping a bigger market,” said Mauricio Claveri, a trade expert at Abeceb consulting group in Buenos Aires.

Last year, Brazil received $66.66 billion in foreign direct investment compared with Argentina’s $7.24 billion. In the 1990s, when Mercosur was created, Argentina received one dollar for every four dollars that entered Brazil, U.N. data shows.

“Argentina would never have been able to become a top 20 automobile manufacturer if it hadn’t belonged to Mercosur,” said Marcelo Elizondo, an international trade specialist at Argentine consulting firm DNI Negocios Internacionales.

For the first time since Mercosur’s creation, the new protectionist measures are hitting trade flows. Trade between Brazil and Argentina slumped 12 percent in the first half of the year and shrank 32 percent in June alone.

And while Venezuela’s Chavez hails his country’s membership in the bloc after a six-year wait, producers in the Caribbean nation are skeptical about the potential benefits.

The target dates for reducing tariffs that were set in 2006, when Venezuela’s incorporation was first agreed in principle, must be overhauled and details governing its membership will take a long time to hash out.

Trade between the Caribbean country and the bloc totaled $8.76 billion in 2011, with Mercosur tallying a roughly $5 billion trade surplus.

“From the point of view of manufacturing or agriculture … we can’t compete,” said Manuel Heredia, president of Venezuela’s National Federation of Ranchers, or Fedenaga.

(Additional reporting by Alejandro Lifschitz in Buenos Aires, Eyanir Chinea in Caracas and Hugo Bachega in Brasilia; Writing by Helen Popper and Hilary Burke; Editing by Kieran Murray; Desking by Vicki Allen)

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Diálogo – Operation Martillo Deemed a ‘Complete Success’ in Guatemala, Honduras

By Adam Williams

GUATEMALA CITY — The first 90 days of the multinational anti-drug initiative known as Operation Martillo were a “complete success,” Guatemalan Government Minister Héctor Mauricio López Bonilla said in the nation’s capital on July 12.

From April 14 through July 12, the Guatemalan, Honduran and U.S. anti-narcotics mission confiscated more than 2,340 kilograms of drugs and incinerated an additional 3,000 kilos along the Caribbean coastlines of Guatemala and Honduras. That’s the word from Ulises Noe Anzueto Giron, Guatemala’s defense minister, speaking at a luncheon here highlighting the mission’s accomplishments.

“I am convinced that with each day of this mission, regional security is improving,” said José Miguel Cabrie, the Honduran ambassador to Guatemala. “Drug trafficking is gravely affecting our countries, but the people involved in this mission are taking the steps to improve regional peace, justice, and above all, to reduce the fear of crime in our nations.”

In recent years, the jungle and mountainous regions of Central America’s eastern coast have become primary transport locations for drugs traveling north from South America. About 79 percent of cocaine flights that take off from South American airstrips land in Honduras, according to a U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs report published in March.

Challenge ahead is a ‘monumental task’

“The fight to restore security to this region is a monumental task,” said Anzueto. “We are very pleased with the results of this first step in the operation and consider it a first victory, though we know the threat of drug-traffic is great. The fight is only just beginning.”

In January, Southcom paired with more than 15 countries, including all seven Central American nations, to target the illicit trafficking of drugs throughout the isthmus. The effort is being assisted by Colombia, Mexico, Canada and several European nations.

In the first four months of the initiative, Operacion Martillo (Operation Hammer in English) has resulted in the confiscation of more than 32 metric tons of cocaine, and has slashed air trafficking of drugs by 60 to 70 percent, said Rear Admiral Chuck Michel, Director of the U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S).

“The results of Operation Martillo are immediately evident,” said López Bonilla. “Within weeks it was clear that drug traffic was diverting away from patrolled areas. We were able to close drug entry points and will continue to do so in other parts of the country and region.”

Operation Martillo includes all 7 nations of Central America

The pilots that took part in Operation Martillo’s first 90-day installment were relaxed on the afternoon of July 12. Dressed in fatigues, they laughed among themselves and enjoyed a traditional Guatemalan lunch of chicken, rice, beans and plantains as officers praised them.

“While we celebrate here today that we lost no personnel or aircraft during the mission, we know that we must continue our pursuit to improve the lives of the citizens of this region,” López Bonilla said. “Central America is a drug corridor and routes are always changing.”

All seven Central American nations were included on the U.S. State Department’s 2012 Major Illicit Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing list. The report estimated that 90 percent of the 700 metric tons of cocaine shipped annually from Colombia and other producing nations pass through Central America.

While the Caribbean coasts of Honduras and Guatemala remain primary drug transit locations, Anzuelo said that Operation Martillo’s next initiative will likely incorporate amplified surveillance and patrol over Pacific waters. With most drug shipments destined for Mexico, Anzuelo said deployment of forces to the Pacific are necessary to limit northbound passageways.

“Drug trafficking networks are mobile, powerful, transnational organizations,” he said. “If it is known that the Caribbean coastline is being heavily monitored, the operation could shift to the Pacific.”

Sinaloa cartel links revealed

Operation Martillo uncovered links between Mexico’s Sinoloa cartel and drug routes in the Gulf of Honduras, he said. Given the breadth of that cartel’s regional operations, it is thought that the organization has already infiltrated Guatemala’s Pacific waters and are employing fishermen to transport drugs from sea to land.

“Unfortunately we are seeing more and more evidence that local fishermen are being incorporated in the international drug trade,” Lopez Bonilla said. “Legal, licensed fishermen are being employed by drug organizations to pick up shipments that planes drop in the water.”

Guatemalan fishermen often collect the floating drugs at specified drop points during the night and transfer the packages inland, he added, noting that “we have several reports of this activity in Pacific waters and a likely next step in our operations will be to uncover the roots of these transport networks.”

Operation Martillo “has no firm end-date,” according to RADM Michel. Members of the Guatemalan and Honduran armed forces echo that idea.

While the mission’s first stage merited large drug seizures, arrests and a reduction in clandestine flights through remote regions, they assert that the multinational collaborative effort must continue in order to improve security in Central America’s northern triangle, where murder rates are among the world’s highest.

“It’s only been three months,” Anzuelo said. “We are definitely pleased and encouraged by the results, though this is a small piece of a bigger operation. Martillo will require collaboration of all the countries of the isthmus and we must assure that we are organized, trained and prepared to continue to reduce drug operations in Central America.”

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WPR – Regional Cooperation Key for Central American Security

By Jason Marczak, on 17 Jul 2012, Briefing

High levels of crime and violence have given Central America the inauspicious title of having the world’s highest homicide rate — about 10 times the world average. Reversing this trend will require collective, crossborder action and regional partnerships that include the private sector. Unfortunately, for this to be possible, the mechanisms needed to do so must be strengthened significantly.

Statistics paint a grim picture of what lies ahead if meaningful cooperation is not taken soon. Honduras, the most violent country, registered 91.6 homicides per 100,000 people in 2011 — nearly triple the rate observed in 2004, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. In El Salvador, a March 2012 truce between two notorious gangshas reportedly halved the daily death toll, which stood at 69.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2011. But the fragile accord leaves the door open for a return to high homicide rates should gang leaders decide the truce is not serving their interests. Following its southern neighbors, Guatemala — generally the last stop for illicit drugs before reaching Mexico and then the United States — registered a rate of 38.5 homicides per 100,000 people last year. Even Costa Rica, a bastion of stability and economic development in the region, saw its murder rate climb to 11.3 per 100,000 people by 2010, a 60 percent jump from 2004. By comparison, the U.S. registers 4.2 homicides per 100,000.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the violence. In El Salvador, the bulk of the insecurity is the result of criminal gangs that take advantage of high levels of inequality and scarce jobs to recruit youths with few other options. In neighboring Guatemala, the booming narcotics and weapons trade, accompanied by the arrival of notorious Mexican gangs such as the Zetas, led Guatemalans to elect President Otto Pérez Molina on the promise that he would take an iron fist (“mano dura”) approach to the narcotraffickers. In Honduras, the 2009 coup that deposed President Manuel Zelayahas exacerbated the country’s insecurity and weak rule of law.

Still, while country-specific solutions are needed, the region must also find better ways to develop and implement crossborder strategies. Without a comprehensive approach, one country’s success will likely mean greater violence for its neighbors.

The only regional institution currently set up to encourage dialogue and joint action is the Central American Integration System (SICA). The group is often maligned, and its recent presidential summit — which included the heads of state of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic — shows why.

Despite meeting under the slogan “Everyone’s Fight: The New Security Approach in Central America,” the eight leaders made little progress with regard to the 20-plus citizen security and law enforcement projects agreed to at the July 2011 summit. (They did manage to sign a comprehensive association agreement with the European Union.) Instead, according to El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, the leaders agreed to be “more expeditious, more aggressive in acquiring funds in order to succeed in financing the regional strategy” to fight crime.

Funding has been a major challenge for SICA since its creation in 1991. Nevertheless, multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, and efforts by individual governments, such as the United States’ Central America Regional Security Initiative, stand ready to support regional security plans. Already, a combined $2.5 billion has been offered to help finance the projects agreed to last year. While securing pledged funds is always a challenge, the larger question is how to set up a regional mechanism to manage project implementation. Once that happens, the money will likely be there.

SICA is the logical choice for this role. But its history of inaction and infighting — not to mention its weak organizational structure — casts doubt on whether in its current form SICA has the institutional legitimacy to effectively manage a regional security plan.

That problematic history of infighting was yet again demonstrated following this year’s presidential summit, when Costa Rica announced it would not participate in “some political forums” while Nicaragua holds SICA’s rotating six-month presidency. The decision — made in protest of a border ruling by the Central American Court of Justice  — was the latest volley in the two countries’ still-simmering conflict over the disputed San Juan River region. But Costa Rica’s action further weakens SICA and indirectly undermines the region’s growing — and much-welcome — sentiment that a more multilateral response to crime is needed.

Rather than get sidetracked by intraregional conflicts, the focus should be on developing a stronger regional partnership that harnesses national-level security and violence-prevention efforts. This must involve both political leaders and the growing number of reform-minded, progressive business leaders who are ready and willing to develop public-private partnerships that address some of the root causes of crime: inequality, worker training, unemployment and unstable home environments, among others. Unlike governments, businesses see no borders. But they do recognize that creating a more secure environment is fundamental to foreign investment.

Cooperation won’t be easy. Given SICA’s tainted reputation, stakeholders are understandably wary about working with it. But for Central America to move forward in reducing insecurity, governments can no longer be content with issuing grand regional plans at regional summits and expecting them to move forward through pure inertia.

Instead, the door should be open to the business community — and civil society — to participate at a regional level in developing and implementing business-relevant security plans. Security is of course a public-sector responsibility. But addressing the underlying challenges that give rise to violence means working with business leaders through a formal mechanism during regional meetings. The private sector may not hold SICA in high regard, but for now it is the only game in town, and their participation in its meetings may just produce the concrete results that Central America requires.

Not only will private sector participation add greater transparency and credibility and put more pressure on governments to act, it will facilitate the crossborder solutions the region needs.

Jason Marczak is director of policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas and senior editor of Americas Quarterly.

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La Nacion – Brasileño PSDB irá a la justicia contra suspensión de Paraguay del Mercosur

El opositor Partido de la Social Democracia Brasileña (PSDB) presentará ante la justicia de su país una acción legal contra la decisión del Mercosur de suspender a Paraguay y aceptar el ingreso de Venezuela, dijo el viernes el senador Alvaro Dias, ex gobernador del Estado de Paraná, fronterizo con Paraguay.

“Fue una decisión ilegal y el PSDB planteará a la Suprema Corte Federal de Brasil una inconstitucionalidad”, dijo Dias a periodistas poco después de entrevistarse con las autoridades paraguayas en Asunción. Dias se entrevistó con el presidente Federico Franco y con los líderes de las distintas bancadas de senadores del Congreso, a quienes llevó el reconocimiento de su partido, en tanto manifestó que la destitución del presidente Fernando Lugo el 22 de junio vía juicio político por el Congreso “se ajustó estrictamente a la constitución”. “El parlamento adoptó sus normas para el juicio político. Las circunstancias exigieron la celeridad para el juicio y eso tenemos que respetar”, dijo el senador brasileño. “Es más”, agregó. “El mismo presidente destituido aceptó entregar el poder y la Corte Suprema de Justicia de Paraguay validó el proceso de juicio, que fue transparente. Por eso nosotros creemos que la represalia en el Mercosur es una afrenta a la soberanía paraguaya” enfatizó. “Cada nación debe decidir sobre su destino y el Congreso es su representación más popular”, precisó el parlamentario. Los socios de Paraguay en el Mercosur (Argentina, Brasil y Uruguay) resolvieron hace una semana suspender a este país del bloque regional hasta las elecciones de abril de 2013, en respuesta a la destitución de Lugo. Simultáneamente, aprobaron el ingreso de Venezuela como miembro pleno, que estaba impedido debido a que el Congreso paraguayo era el único que aun no lo había ratificado. La Unión Suramericana de Naciones (Unasur) también suspendió a Paraguay del mecanismo regional hasta las elecciones de abril del año que viene. De acuerdo con el Tratado de Asunción, fundacional del Mercosur, el ingreso de nuevos miembros debe ser aprobado por los cuatro socios.

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