Expansion of Mercosur: will CAN disappear?

Versión en castellano: http://www.elcolombiano.com/blogs/lacajaregistradora/?p=1181

Autor: Giovanny Cardona Montoya

Translator: Andrés Fernando Cardona Ramírez

What are we talking about?

Since the establishment in 1960 of LAFTA (ALALC), renamed LAIA (ALADI) in 1980, in this region there has been a plan to create a Latin American economic bloc, or at least South American. From the framework of LAIA emerged AC (CAN)  and Mercosur, two integration projects seeking, each in its own way, the consolidation of a sub-regional customs territory equivalent to a Customs Union (CU). Therefore, the agreement CAN-Mercosur could be understood as a bridge between two subgroups that were born to blend into one.

Is CAN crumbling?

However, the signing of the FTA between Colombia and the United States five years ago-and the political crisis by Paraguay in mid-2012, have been the detonators of a significant change in the structure of the two South American blocs. Venezuela’s withdrawal from the CAN, accompanied by their subsequent entry into Mercosur seems to be just the beginning of an expansion of this and the deterioration of the Andean bloc, since there is talk of adding Bolivia and Ecuador to the block that Brazil leads.

With the withdrawal of Venezuela from the CAN fell one of the most significant trade routes of the bloc: exports from Colombia to Venezuela. However, although intra-Andean trade represents only 7% of exports of the 4 countries of the bloc, it should be noted that almost ¾ of it are manufactured goods, and this is very significant for mono-export economies, which depend heavily on the mining markets.

According to official statistics, Venezuela came to represent more than 50% of intra-Andean purchases, being the world’s 2nd largest market for Colombian exports. In 2008, Venezuela imported to the CAN goods worth more than 8 billion dollars, while the rest of the bloc purchased just over seven. In 2011 – and without Venezuela-, Ecuador and Bolivia represents almost 40% of intra-bloc imports. Therefore, a possible entry into Mercosur by Bolivia and Ecuador is a very relevant issue for companies in Peru and Colombia, the Andean survivors.

 ANDEAN BLOC: Export of Merchandise according to Economic Zone, 2008-2011 (Millions of dollars)

 ECONOMIC ZONE     2008              2009            2010         2011

WORLD TOTAL         93,654           77,680           98,003     131,626

 ANDEAN                      7,005               5,774              7,810          9,187

Bolivia                              479                   535                 636             714

Colombia                      2,456                2,116              3,063       3,428

Ecuador                        2,491                 1,586              2,127        2,770

Peru                               1,579                  1,538             1,984        2,275

MERCOSUR               5,516                  3,578              5,517        7,462

Chile                               4,284                 2,328             3,187         5,130

Mexico                          1,037                     865             1,034        1,272

Venezuela                   8,080                  5,449             3,174       4,335

Rest of World          25,528                 23,791          30,394     41,489

Source: http://estadisticas.comunidadandina.org/eportal/contenidos/compendio2012.htm

 Will Mercosur be the future of Colombia?

If we reduce the subject to a customs matter, then, we must highlight some key issues:


– Mercosur protectionism is higher than that of CAN. Therefore, entering the Mercosur would increase our barriers, which would break an economic model that has positioned openness in trade policy in Colombia for the past couple of decades. Are we ready for it?

– Between 2006 and 2012, the average tariff in Colombia has dropped from 12% to 6.2%. However, most imports are taxed additionally with a VAT, and in the case of agricultural system an Andean Price Band is used.

– Colombia already has FTAs with the United States and the European Union, a fact that does not occur in any of the nations of Mercosur.

– All this leads us to conclude that neither Peru-which also has a model of economic opening-, or Colombia, could potentially be full members of Mercosur, should they so wish. The coherent and viable position would now have a trade agreement with Mercosur, without being full members of it. Something similar to the Chilean model.

But, if we take the issue beyond customs, then, are more questions than answers:

Not having a strong regional bloc (ex.  Andean Customs Union) weakens our ability to negotiate with countries in other regions. Such is the case of our less than active participation in scenarios WTO negotiation.

– The entry into Mercosur of Andean countries reduces the potential regional market for Colombian manufacturing. The loss of the Venezuelan market was notorious for Colombian trade in recent years, if so with Ecuador, the impact will also be significant. It is clear that Argentina and Brazil can take advantage of trade diversion impacts or preference erosion of Colombian Andean countries, moving as their main suppliers.

– Remember that the Chilean strategy of having agreements with everybody, but barely penetrating a bloc that restricts their autonomy customs policy, has been accompanied by economic development policies that have led to a great diversification of their markets: East Asia, North America, Latin America and Western Europe are major markets for exports of southern country. The Colombian case is very different, we have a large concentration of the export market in North America and the European Union, with mineral product sectors or low complexity technological merchandise.

Final thought: the most critical aspect of this situation is not that our neighbors seek shelter in Mercosur, the really serious problem is that Colombian trade policy is not being defined in our country, but will have to be a reaction to the active strategies of other nations.

The CAN and Mercosur has had an active rhetoric but a weak drive. Both projects have tried to create blocs with significant supranational level that does not materialize. However, while they are latent, can be a source of public goods to encourage domestic development and to strengthen the capacities of negotiation with industrialized countries and blocs of the world.

Does Colombia know where it is going in foreign trade? Are we clear about what our horizon looks like? I’m afraid not.