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Opinion: 25 Years of Mercosur: Time to Acknowledge Its Achievements

03/28/2016 - 08h48

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MAURO VIEIRA
SPECIAL CONTRIBUTION FOR FOLHA

This month marks the celebration of the 25 years since the presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay signed the Treaty of Asunción that founded Mercosur.

It is the time to make a balanced assessment, acknowledge the gains, respond to criticism and identify the challenges ahead.

25 years ago, there were not many Brazilian CEOs and employees who enjoyed earnings primarily gained from business with neighboring markets.

With the quantitative and qualitative jump in Brazilian commerce with partners (from US$ 4.5 billion in 1991 to US$ 30.3 billion in 2015), Mercosur became our largest market for the export of a variety of industrial goods with high added value, assuming enormous relevance for many sectors in the Brazilian industry, such as the automotive sector.

High added value means higher salaries for the employee and greater revenues for companies. It is estimated that the average salary in some of the sectors that supply to neighboring markets will be 5 times greater than that of sectors that are primary exporters whose main destinations are in Europe and Asia.

Mercosur helps to increase the salaries of the Brazilian worker. 25 years ago, a Brazilian who wanted to work in a neighboring country could not count this employment period towards his retirement in Brazil. Today he can.

His children would not have efficient mechanisms in place for the acknowledgement of their studies abroad. Today they do.

A Brazilian interested in being a tourist in a Mercosur country would need a passport to travel. Today, all he needs is an identification card.

The set of agreements on residency, employment, social security, educational integration and bloc tourism makes everyday life easier for many Brazilians and builds a foundation for economic integration and the establishment of a common citizenship in the region.

These are concrete effects, which still receive little attention from critics, who accuse Mercosur of paralyzing the ability of member countries to reach commercial agreements with third world countries, due to the clause that calls for negotiation as a group.

If that was the case, Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and others would not have developed a European Union of 28 countries, which documents commercial agreements.

Many complain, for example, that Mercosur has not yet finalized an agreement with the EU. However, Brazil and its Mercosur neighbors have already prepared a collective negotiation offer, and are waiting for the EU to present its proposal in order to begin talks. In other words, Mercosur has not paralyzed anything and is seated at the negotiation table.

The virtues of the bloc as a source of stability for Brazil and for South America as a whole should also be lauded for its own merits.

One of the great advantages of Mercosur is that it established, in the wake of the bilateral agreements between Brazil and Argentina during the second half of the 80s, a virtuous circle of achievements through cooperation. Mercosur helped dissipate old and unjustified rivalries and do away with archaic chances for conflict.

We have finally achieved the presupposition of all of the other conquests: democracy.

Mercosur was born from, in large measure, the desire to do away with authoritarianism and, beside the economic social and diplomatic gains, it will be, for many more anniversaries, an instrument for the preservation and improvement of our democracies.

None of this implies lack of knowledge about the size of the tasks that lie ahead. We all acknowledge Mercosur's future challenges, especially those that have to do with its expansion and its similarities to other blocs, countries and regions -from the UE to the Pacific Alliance, from India to Canada- which will require the engagement of all sectors of government and civil society.

More democracy, more social inclusion, more citizenship, more reciprocal recognition, greater transit, work and education facilities, greater commerce and investments: these are Mercosur's permanent objectives. That is why it is a fundamental pillar of Brazilian foreign policy.

As president Dilma Rousseff mentioned during the Asunción summit last December, we are faced with the challenge of improving our integration process, maintaining the invaluable collective patrimony built in the last few decades as a base.

It is that quarter of a century of accomplishments that members of Mercosur can today celebrate with pride.

MAURO VIEIRA is minister of Foreign Relations. The chancellor is simultaneously publishing his article on the 25th anniversary of Mercosur in the following journals: "ABC Color" (Paraguay), "Clarín" (Argentina), "La Razón" (Bolivia), "El Observador" (Uruguay) and "El Universal" (Venezuela).

Translated by SUGHEY RAMIREZ

Read the article in the original language

AFP
Fernando Collor (Brazil), Andrés Rodriguez (Paraguay), Carlos Menem (Argentina) and Luis Lacalle (Uruguay)
Fernando Collor (Brazil), Andrés Rodriguez (Paraguay), Carlos Menem (Argentina) and Luis Lacalle (Uruguay)

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