Brazilian Minister of Foreign Relations, Celso Amorim made a positive assessment of the Mercosur Summit, which took place last week in the southeastern Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro.Â
According to Amorim, there was a candid debate between the heads of state involved, focusing on the integration of the bloc and of South America as a whole. In addition to the Mercosur presidents, also attending the Summit were leaders of associated countries, and invited guests.
Amorim recognized that there are divergences of opinion between the members, but said that they can be solved. "Where there is life there are differences, homogeneity only exists in the cemetery," he said.
"The members do not disagree on the essential points, namely the commitment to integration based on social justice and economic progress. And in order to lay the foundations for integration, we must respect our differences," he stated.
The minister said that president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was also pleased with the outcome. According to him, the Mercosur is currently more than just a relationship between governments, it belongs to the peoples in the countries that comprise it.
He believes that corporate organizations, unions, states and civil society institutions have "taken over Mercosur." "Should governments fail, society is going to complain," he said.
According to the minister, more than economic integration, the Mercosur aims at achieving political and social integration. "The higher goal is integration for the benefit of our peoples, and trade is but a tool," he said. The Summit saw the creation of a Consultative Forum of Mercosur Municipalities, States, Provinces and Departments.
Among the decisions made during the summit, Amorim highlighted the approval of the first projects to be financed through the Mercosur Structural Convergence Fund (Focem). The 11 projects range from road recovery programs, to support to micro-companies, to the eradication of foot and mouth disease in the bloc.
Other issues thoroughly discussed during the summit were the asymmetries between member countries. Paraguay and Uruguay, which are smaller countries, for instance, requested special treatment regarding some issues, such as rules of origin.
According to the Mercosur rules, a product is only amenable to free trade when at least 60% of it is produced in one of the bloc's countries. Uruguayans and Paraguayans demand the right to have a lower percentage.
The final statement of the Summit gives priority to asymmetries recovery work, and to productive integration among the member countries. The document determines the creation of a Plan for Overcoming Asymmetries in the Mercosur.
It was also decided that a workgroup would be created to deal with the entry of Bolivia in the bloc, currently comprised of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.
In the foreign realm, the statement highlights the presence in the event of representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), "with which Mercosur should soon conclude negotiations for a free trade agreement." Also present at the Summit were diplomats from Panama, since the Mercosur is also contemplating the possibility of signing a trade agreement with the country.
According to the final statement, these efforts are part of the bloc's strategy for "widening and deepening its commercial ties with different countries and groups of countries, thus gaining access to new markets and contributing to the economic and social development of its member countries."
The Summit was attended by the presidents of Argentina, Nestor Kirchner, Brazil, Lula, Paraguay, Nicanor Duarte Frutos, Uruguay, Tabaré Vasquez, and Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. Paraguay took over the rotating presidency of the bloc, replacing Brazil.
Also attending the event were the presidents of Bolivia, Evo Morales, of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, of Colombia, ílvaro Uribe, of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, and the foreign minister of Peru, García Belaúnde. These countries are not full members but associates of Mercosur.
The event was also attended by the prime-minister of Guiana, Samuel Archbald, and the president of Suriname, Runaldo Ronald Venetiaan, as well as the undersecretary general for Economic Affairs at the GCC, Mohamed Al-Mazrooei.
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