Despite more than a dozen multilateral organizations, neighbor nations remain commercial strangers.
The Union of South American Nations (Unasur) — an organization that once aspired to become South America’s answer to the European Union — quietly faded away last month. Deep divisions over Venezuela’s turmoil and internal leadership battles precipitated its demise.
Yet its real vulnerability stemmed from something deeper: the economic isolation of its members. Unlike the European Union, Latin America’s multilateral bodies haven’t ignited commercial ties between their participants. This economic detachment not only doomed Unasur, but has held the region back, and may keep it on the margins in the decades to come.
Unasur wasn’t the first attempt to integrate Latin America. In the 1960s the six-country Latin American Free Trade Association fell victim to protectionism. In the 1980s, a dozen nations tried again with the Latin American Integration Association, largely to no avail.
In the 1990s Mercosur took center stage as a vehicle to knit South America together: Its common currency never materialized, and trade between the partners peaked shortly afterward, then again declined.
Despite more than a dozen different multilateral organizations, Latin American nations remain commercial strangers. Sure, Argentina and Brazil exchange some auto parts, Colombia and Ecuador do a decent trade in paper and plastics, and Chilenos watch Mexican soap operas.
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