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The Common Market of the South (Mercado Común del Sur) is an economic organization formed in 1991 by Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay, with the aim of establishing a common market for South America. It is an institution that links a population of 190 million people (1991) and a joint GDP of US$606.5 billion (51% of Latin America's total GDP). Other countries have since joined as associate nations, namely Chile (1996), Bolivia (1997), and Peru (2003).

If we ignore the historical commercial exchange of primary products among the South American countries, a trade that was intensified during the World War II, and the Pan-American Union, established first in 1889 with the name of the Commercial Bureau of the American Republic, for the purpose of promoting peace, friendship, and commerce among the member republics, the first processes of integration can be found in the ideas that emanated from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 1948 (ECLAC). Raúl Presbisch, director of the ECLAC from 1948–1963, drew attention to the difficulties inherent in an industrialization process that was limited to small national markets and to the need for economies of scale. In this same period, Europe was undertaking its own integration process, which led to the formation of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957. Because the EEC agreed to favor primary products exported by former colonies of Africa, South American exporters had to seek alternative solutions.

The first major integrating initiative in South America was the Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA) of 1960, formed initially by Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru, and Chile, which were subsequently joined by Colombia (1961), Ecuador (1962), Venezuela (1966), and Bolivia (1967). Its aim was to fully liberalize trade in twelve years; its failure brought about the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA) in 1980. Another organization, the Central American Common Market (CACM), was organized in 1960. Subsequently, the Andean Group (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela) established a second wave of integrations in 1969. The Caribbean countries also went for a regional integration through the Caribbean Community (CARICOM, 1973).

These events enabled a rapprochement between Argentina and Brazil, strengthened by the arrival of democracy (in 1984 and 1985, respectively), which allowed the two nations to embark upon the recovery of their economies, which had been weakened external debt, lack of infrastructure, and lack of competitiveness abroad. In 1985 the two countries signed the Declaration of Iguaçú, which was a preferential association. Three more treaties followed in 1986, 1988, and 1990.

Using this base, the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay endorsed the Treaty of Asunción on March 26, 1991, which was the constituent act of MERCOSUR. The treaty established as objectives the free circulation of goods, services, and production factors. The instruments were to be a trade liberalization program with progressive reductions in customs duties and the elimination of noncustoms restrictions, the coordination of macroeconomic policies, a common external customs tariff, and the adoption of agreements by sectors. The date set for the zero-customs duty was December 31, 1994.It also created the following two provisional governing bodies: the Common Market Council, a higher body responsible for policy guidance and in charge of ensuring that the objectives of the Treaty of Asunción are met; and the Common Market Group, an executive body supervising the fulfillment of the treaty and the council decisions. Further consultative and executive bodies were added in 1994. However, MERCOSUR did not achieve a common external customs duty.

MERCOSUR is an example of "open regionalism" (as opposed to the "closed regionalism" of the 1950s to 1980s), meaning that it can be extended to neighboring countries and can establish agreements with other trading blocks. Agreements were rapidly undertaken with nations in the LAIA area. Chile signed an agreement as an associate nation in 1996, aiming to establish a free-trade area within ten years. Bolivia became another associate nation in 1997, as did Peru in 2003. Likewise, negotiations took place with other regional blocks, including NAFTA, the European Union, CARICOM, the Andean Group, and India.

MERCOSUR's history falls into two periods, divided by the year 1998. The first stage is characterized by the consolidation of the institutions, the increase in the trade exchanges, and a strong growth in the zone; nominal GDP rose from U.S.$620 billion in 1990 to U.S.$1,115 billion in 1998. The direction of the trade flows also varied, with an increase in MERCOSUR's interregional trade (exports and imports), which, in 1990, was worth U.S.$8,230 billion (11.3%), rising to a maximum volume of U.S.$41,074 billion (22.8%) by 1997. Overall trade also grew from U.S.$73,798 billion in 1990 to U.S.$180,119 billion in 1997.

At the end of 1998 this period of growth dissipated during a series of crises beginning with Brazil (1998–1999), whose economy was negatively affected by the financial crisis in Asia. This was followed by the Argentine financial disaster of 2001 to 2002, which led to a disorderly devaluation and the economic and institutional collapse of the country. Nominal GDP fell sharply, to U.S.$554 billion in 2002.

MERCOSUR has had both successes and failures. The objectives established in 1991 have not been met, and although, in the first stage, growth was positive—real GDP grew at a rate of 2.37 in 1990, 5.85 in 1995 and 2.42 in 1998—in 2002 it was a mere 0.1 percent. Some experts now question the need for utility of regional blocks in a globalized world that requires universal standards. The successes include increased trade, the arrival of foreign investment, and the forming of a block with an international presence. The benefits have been political as well as economic. One indicator of this is that the support of the member states helped to quash General Lino Oviedo's attempted coup d'état in Paraguay in 1996. An even stronger example is the Ushuaia Protocol (1998), in which it was agreed that the breakdown in the democratic processes of a member nation could lead to its being expelled from the organization.

The 2003 elections of Nestor Kirchner and Lula da Silva as presidents of Argentina and Brazil, respectively, have brought fresh impetus to the integration process. When Kirchner proposed the creation of a single currency, he was backed by Brazil. Subsequently, the twenty-sixth summit of Mercosur presidents in 2004 accepted Mexico and Venezuela as associate nations. The integration continues with an interest in Mexico forming a nexus between MERCOSUR and NAFTA.

SEE ALSO Argentina; Brazil; Chile; GATT, WTO; Globalization, Pro and Con;International Trade Agreements;NAFTA;Protectionism and Tariff Wars;Regional Trade Agreements.


Chudnovsky, Daniel., and Fanelli, Jose Maria, cdor. El desafío de integrarse para crecer. Balance y perspectivas del MERCOSUR en su primera década (The challenge of joining to grow, balance and perspectives of the MERCOSUR in its first decade). Madrid: Siglo XXI editores, 2001.

United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America. Statistical yearbook for Latin America and the Caribbean 2002. Santiago, Chile: 2003.

Donato Gómez-Díaz Ignacio Amate-Fortes


views updated May 29 2018


In March 1991 Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay signed the Treaty of Asunción, creating Mercosur (in Spanish, Mercado Común del Sur; in Portuguese, Mercado Comum do Sul, known in Brazil as Mercosul), the Southern Common Market. It was founded to promote regional integration by establishing a common external tariff, coordinated macroeconomic policies, a common business policy toward outside parties, and free circulation of goods, services, and factors of production. The structure of Mercosur (Council, Group, and Business Commission) was defined in December 1994 through the Ouro Preto Protocol. A Permanent Arbitration Panel, based in Asunción, Paraguay, was created in February 2002, and implementation of the Mercosur Parliament began in Montevideo, Uruguay, in December 2006. Signatories to the Treaty of Asunción are full members, and Venezuela began the process of joining in 2006. Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador are all associate members.

As the largest economic bloc in Latin America, Mercosur had a population of more than 250 million people in 2006, with a gross domestic product in excess of US$1 trillion, nearly 76 percent of South America's GDP. Trade among member countries grew from US$5.1 billion in 1991 to $21.1 billion in 2005, with a positive trade balance of $54.1 billion that year with countries outside the zone.

With respect to other regional blocs, the U.S.-led initiative to form the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) has been all but paralyzed since 2004, owing to the joint decisions undertaken by members and difficulties in securing trade benefits. Similar causes and effects have virtually incapacitated the agreement with the European Union, the foundations for which were laid in 1992. However, significant progress has been made with respect to trade with Chile and the Andean Community (Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Colombia) as well as concerning agreements with the World Trade Organization to remove restrictions blocking trade with developing countries, resulting in signed agreements with India and South Africa. The main intrazonal challenges include consolidation of a common customs policy, institutional optimization, and reducing the concerns felt by smaller countries that derive few benefits from trade. The Mercosur Structural Convergence Fund was created in December 2004 to address this last issue.

See alsoEconomic Development; Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).


Barbosa, Rubens Antônio, ed. Mercosul 15 anos. São Paulo: Imprensa Oficial do Estado de São Paulo, 2007.

Instituto para la Integración de América Latina y Caribe. Informe Mercosul 11. Series Informes Subregionales de Integración. Buenos Aires: BID/INTAL, November 2006.

Manzetti, Luigi. "The Political Economy of Mercosur." Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 35, no. 4 (1993–1994): 101-141.

                                       Luigi Manzetti

                                  Maria LetÍcia CorrÊa


views updated May 29 2018

MERCOSUR (ˈmʔːkəʊsʊə) Mercado Común del Sur (Spanish: Southern (American) Common Market)

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