Latin American Integration in a Turbulent World

On February 21st The Dialogue hosted an open discussion on the future of Latin American integration. The event featured Andres Malamud of the University of Lisbon, Monica De Bolle of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and Luis Miguel Castilla of the Inter-American Development Bank.

Given the turbulent state of trade agreements in the United States and Europe, many are asking if there is an opportunity for greater regional integration in Latin America. If so, what are these opportunities and what form might they take? Which countries can take the lead on this effort? These were just a few questions explored by our panelists during The Dialogue’s “Latin American Integration in a Turbulent World”.

Malamud began with a discussion of regional integration in conceptual terms and provided examples of it in practice worldwide, concluding with why efforts have been unsuccessful in Latin America . According to Malamud, many factors contribute to Latin America’s continuing quest for integration. “Political factors are the stick, economic factors are the carrot, and ideological and cultural factors are the ideas” he noted near the close of the discussion.

De Bolle focused the conversation on looking at integration from the perspective of intra-regional trade and its changes over time. Following her analysis of these trends, she turned to important considerations for integration such as the role of Brazil in future efforts. According to De Bolle, “For Brazil, the obstacles for regional integration is not a lack of institutions but a lack of will”.

Castilla presented an optimistic perspective to the topic, emphasizing the strengths of the current state of regional integration and the anticipated role of China in the future of Latin America’s economic growth. Looking forward, Castilla predicted that pragmatism will prevail and each country will do what is best for them. Castilla noted in these self-serving pursuits, there is still significant opportunity for integration as interests between countries align.

The weak state of Latin American economic integration cannot be blamed on lack of trying. Unfortunately for proponents the road to integration may be bumpier than ever. As many Latin American countries enter their election seasons, it is uncertain what priorities will be set going forward. Furthermore, it is also unclear what role the Trump administration will play in hemispheric coordination. Despite the uncertainty, what cannot be ignored is the camaraderie between nations.