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High-level Commission to Map Ideas for South American Union
Odeen Ishmael PhD
Guyana Journal, January 2007

The South American integration process obtained a positive boost in December 2006 when the presidential summit of the South American Community of Nations (SACN) established a High-Level Commission to develop specific ideas and propose methodologies for the establishment of a continental political-economic union. The Commission, to be based in Rio de Janeiro, is expected to be manned by representatives of the 12 South American republics, and will report to the next summit late next year in Cartagena, Colombia.

This Commission will also oversee the implementation of presidential and ministerial decisions and coordinate existing initiatives in the pursuit of the major regional goals and actions. The presidents have already appealed for cooperation from the secretariats of Mercosur, Andean Community and Caricom to ensure the success of the work of the Commission. The cooperation of the Caricom Secretariat is significant since the two “non-Latin” members of SACN also belong to the Caribbean regional organization.

Certainly, there are numerous areas on integration to be studied and properly analyzed. The high-level representatives on the Rio Commission have a mandate to examine the following fifteen topics: (a) institutional convergence, (b) economic development and employment creation, (c) commercial integration, (d) energy integration, (e) integration of transportation and communication infrastructure, (f) asymmetries, (g) productive integration, (h) innovation, research and development, (i) information and communication technologies, (j) South American financial mechanisms, (k) South American social agenda, (l) environmental aspects, (m) South American citizenship, (n) cultural identity, and (o) citizen participation in the integration process

But it is obvious that due to time constraints, the Commission may not be able to consider all these aspects in the detail they deserve. As a result, with the support of the regional organizations, it will establish working groups to examine issues relating to finance, infrastructure, energy integration and social policies. In particular, the working group on social policies will be responsible for promoting a dialogue with various members of civil society and proposing more institutional mechanisms to enable information sharing, encourage participation and gather proposals from different sectors of civil society.

These working groups will develop action plans to be submitted to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and sectorial Ministers for their consideration.

To implement action plans, financial resources are certainly the most necessary ingredient. With this in mind, the Rio Commission’s special working group on financial matters, with support from the Andean Development Corporation (CAF), aims to develop proposals for the creation of financial and development mechanisms for the SACN.

In overcoming the handicaps and avoiding duplication of efforts, the Rio Commission, according to the summit declaration, will develop proposals for the “enhancement of the institutional links between Mercosur and the Andean Community with full participation of Chile, Guyana and Surinam.” It will also hold joint meetings of various institutions in those two regional bodies responsible for political and social matters, and will review the agreements already achieved in those areas with the possibility of applying them within the SACN.

On the legal level, the high level representatives – as the summit declaration says – will examine “the elements of a constitutional agreement leading to the strengthening at the international level of a true South American identity and citizenship, based on common values regarding democracy and human rights, and on the construction of a common future of peace and socioeconomic prosperity.” A South American parliament, agreed upon by the presidents, may assist to generate ideas for this enterprise, even though modalities of this forum are still in the planning stage.

So far, there is a build-up on the momentum for the integration of the continent’s transportation system. A meeting of the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA) in Quito, immediately after the summit, reviewed the series of planned transportation projects. Interestingly, the role of French Guiana (not a member of the SACN) in the integration process was raised, since the coastal road of that French territory can provide a significant link for Guyana and Suriname with north-eastern Brazil. However, the idea of French Guiana being invited to participate in the SACN has not gained a consensus among the member-states.

Indeed, the progress of integration developed by SACN in such a relatively short period of its existence is also reflected in the very positive efforts of a “High-Level Strategic Commission of Reflection” set up by the continental body in December 2005. This Reflection Commission of special representatives of the Presidents recently completed preliminary analyses on the functions and structures of the SACN at five meetings: three in Montevideo, one in Buenos Aires, and one in Caracas. Two meetings of its special working-group on financial integration were also held in Caracas and Montevideo, respectively. The analyses developed by these meetings – submitted to the recent summit in Bolivia – will effectively buttress the work of the Rio Commission.

Significantly, the Reflection Commission has also developed some ideas on how to move forward in financing the social agenda set by the SACN. This is of special importance since the social agenda is aimed at drastically reducing the level of poverty throughout the continent. In this respect, the financial integration working group has recommended the cooperation of all the South American financial institutions, as well as the Caribbean Development Bank, to build the foundations of a financial structure to help transform the saving of the region into productive investment. Special and differential treatment for the weaker economies will be given priority in this process.

This proposed financial structure includes the establishment of a development Bank of the South which is now being considered with greater seriousness. Financial experts from across the continent are examining the advantages of setting up such a financial institution and it is expected that the high-level Rio Commission will utilize their suggestions in the preparation of its final report to be presented at the third summit in Colombia next year.

(The writer is Guyana’s ambassador to Venezuela. The views expressed are solely those of the writer.)
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