Bolivia Advances in Efforts to Become Full Member of Mercosur

12 December 2012

Bolivia has signed the accession protocol for becoming a full member of South American customs bloc Mercosur, officials announced on Friday. Current Mercosur members will still have to ratify Bolivia's entry to the group for it to become formalised.

The news comes just a few weeks after the organisation's members - minus Paraguay, which remains under suspension - first tabled invites to both Bolivia and Ecuador. Along with Paraguay, Mercosur's members include Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

"Evo, you are most welcome," Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said to Bolivian President Evo Morales, in comments reported by MercoPress. "This has been good news for the summit. We have skipped years of negotiations with the Bolivian decision to sign the accesion protocol."

Paraguayan officials, meanwhile, spoke out about not being able to formally weigh in on the invite to Bolivia, given Asunción's current suspension. Current Paraguayan President Federico Franco told Argentine newspaper La Nación last week that any decisions taken by Mercosur without Paraguay are "illegal and illegitimate."

Bolivia's joining of the customs bloc has drawn a mixed response domestically, however. For instance, industry groups are reportedly concerned that Bolivia's agricultural producers could face difficulty in having to compete with regional heavyweights Argentina and Brazil. Others have worried whether Bolivia will still be able to retain its membership in another regional customs bloc, the Community of Andean Nations (CAN).

Ecuador, meanwhile, is still weighing whether it is in its best interest to join Mercosur, with the country's president - Rafael Correa - telling reporters that his government plans to announce its decision in early 2013.

"For a country without a national currency such as Ecuador, entering into these accords presents both opportunities but also great risk," he told news agency Agence France Presse. "We need to do substantial reflection, and conduct detailed studies."

Venezuela settles into new role as full member

Meanwhile, the bloc's newest full member - Venezuela, whose membership took effect on 31 July - agreed during the Mercosur summit to adopt the Common External Tariff of the Southern Cone grouping. The 6-7 December summit was Caracas' first as a full member of the group.

The process of implementing the Common External Tariff will occur in four stages, slated to finish in early 2016, according to Spanish-language news agency EFE.

"I am very happy to see that Mercosur is consolidating itself into an ideal model of integration for South America," Rousseff said regarding Venezuela's entry. "As a bloc, we stand as the world's fifth largest economy. We have at our disposal an enormous energy potential and ample food production capacity, in addition to having a thriving and diverse set of industries."

Argentina, Brazil continue work to ease trade tensions

Meeting on the sidelines of the Mercosur summit, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and Brazilian President Rousseff also discussed ways to ease their two countries' often contentious trade relationship. The neighbours - and regional economic powerhouses - have often quarrelled over issues such as import restrictions, a row that has often threatened to have spillover effects for the rest of the bloc.

According to statements made following the bilateral discussions, the environment was "constructive," with both presidents agreeing to continue these talks at another meeting in January.

ICTSD reporting; "Venezuela acuerda adoptar aranceles del Mercosur en cuatro etapas hasta 2016," EFE, 7 December 2012; "Bolivia ya es el sexto socio del Mercosur," CLARÍN, 8 December 2012; "Cristina y Dilma se reunieron para intentar destrabar el comercio," CLARÍN, 8 December 2012; "Bolivia signs Mercosur incorporation protocol and becomes sixth member," MERCOPRESS, 8 December 2012; "Bolivia pide oficialmente ingreso pleno al Mercosur, Ecuador decide en 2013," AFP, 8 December 2012; "El Mercosur avanzó hacia la inclusion de Bolivia," LA NACIÓN, 8 December 2012.

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