Yesterday, at Mercosur’s presidential summit in Montevideo, Uruguay, foreign ministers of the bloc’s four founding members—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—signed a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Palestinian Authority (PA). This trade deal is significant not only due to Mercosur’s strength as the world’s fourth-largest economic bloc, but also because this pact opens the Palestinian economy up to new South American markets. The PA had prior trade relations with Argentina, according to the Latin American Integration Association—importing over $1.7 billion of Argentine goods in 2010.
PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki was present in Montevideo on behalf of the Palestinian people and expressed his gratitude: “We are glad to know we have so many friends in the region.” All four founding Mercosur members endorsed a sovereign and independent Palestinian state over the course of the past 12 months, starting with Brazil in December 2010.
Mercosur also has an FTA fully in force with Israel; it was signed in December 2007 but needed ratification by the parliaments of each member state. Argentina’s congress became the last such nation to do so in March 2011.
Israel places strict controls on the flow of goods to and from the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank—and leaders like al-Maliki charge that Israel is stifling economic growth among the Palestinians. An Israeli representative from its Montevideo embassy said that while Israel would respect the Mercosur-PA FTA, it is “not the best way to promote peace” in the Middle East.
As general debate of the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) 66th Session got underway this week, the issue of UN structural reform was again brought into focus—with Brazil leading the charge. A thriving democracy and one of the largest emerging economies in the world, Brazil has powerful ammunition in making its demand—especially paired with the collective declining influence of deficit-ridden, developed nations.
The desired trophy for Brazil comes in the form of a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). This elite organ has retained the same numerical composition—15 seats: 5 with permanent tenures (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and 10 with temporary, two-year terms—since its formation in 1946.
Critics of the status quo argue that this small size does not accurately reflect the global developments of the last 55 years. Brazil, as it vocally carries the banner of emerging nations that feel underrepresented in the UN, has chosen to act on reform. The most notable way of doing so has been through the Group of 4 (G4), an alliance formed in 2004 composed of Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan. Each of the G4 nations mutually supports the other members’ bids.
The G4 seeks to expand the size of the UNSC by two-thirds, from 15 members to 25, through the addition of 6 permanent and 4 non-permanent seats. The permanent seats would be comprised of the G4 plus two nations from Africa. However, discord within the African Union has stifled compromise on this issue; Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa are all vying for the two proposed seats and cannot arrive at an agreement.
The G4 is also facing competition from a larger but less influential faction of UN members: Uniting for Consensus (UfC). Members of the UfC, some 40 in number, also favor expanding the UNSC to 25 seats—but by adding 10 temporary seats and keeping the same 5 permanent, veto-carrying members. This makes sense, considering that many of the UfC’s core members are regional rivals of the G4—including Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, Turkey, Italy, and South Korea—who have a vested interest in thwarting any sort of growing regional influence among the individual G4 members.
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Dilma First Woman Ever to Open UNGA
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff became the first woman in history to open the UN General Assembly. “It is with personal humility, but with my justified pride as a woman, that I meet this historic moment,” said Rousseff as she opened the general debate. “I share this feeling with over half of the human beings on this planet who, like myself, were born women and who, with tenacity, are occupying the place they deserve in the world. I am certain that this will be the century of women.” Rousseff can also be found on the cover of this week’s Newsweek, with a profile by Mac Margolis.
In conjunction with the opening of the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly, Americas Society and Council of the Americas are hosting multiple Latin American heads of state. Go to AS/COA Online for livestreams and a schedule of events.
LatAm Countries to Join U.S.-Brazilian Governance Partnership
Presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Barack Obama of the United States officially launched the Open Government Partnership (OGP) while in New York on Tuesday. The OGP’s goal is to give citizens tools to monitor elected leaders and achieve more transparent governance. Mexico is one of the six founding members and other Latin American countries that have pledged to sign on to the partnership are: Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, and Uruguay. “This is a smart program for U.S. policy in the hemisphere and a great leadership role for Brazil to play,” reports Bloggings by Boz, who links to commitments and plans from Brazil, Mexico, and the United States.
Palestine Can Expect Heavy LatAm Support at UN
Nearly every country in Latin America is set to support a vote for Palestinian statehood, which is anticipated at this week’s UN General Assembly. The only holdouts appear to be Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Panama. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas toured Latin America in 2009.
In the last two months, the world has witnessed a wave of diplomatic support for a Palestinian state from a region that is continuing to extend its foreign policy imprint: Latin America. But will this trend yield any measurable progress toward a two-state Palestinian-Israeli agreement—or produce a negligible effect on Palestine’s quest for full autonomy and sovereignty?
Although Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela fully recognized a sovereign Palestinian state before the end of last year, Brazil’s decision to throw its diplomatic weight behind Palestine in December 2010 initiated a chain reaction through the region. Given Brazil’s economic prominence, its South American neighbors likely saw low political risks in following Brasília’s lead. For instance, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner sent a letter to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas only five days after then-Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva did so. Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname and Uruguay have since issued similar statements.
After Chile formally recognized a Palestinian state earlier this month, Palestinian officials suggested Paraguay and Peru would shortly follow suit—the latter of which acquiesced this week. Peru was widely expected to acknowledge a Palestinian state in anticipation of the third Summit of South American-Arab Countries (Cumbre América del Sur-Países Árabes), which will be hosted in Lima beginning February 12.
This domino effect begs the question: Why now? The Palestine Liberation Organization was established back in 1964 and Abbas has been the PA president for over six years—so there has not been a recent regime change. Most likely, it appears that Latin America was simply fed up with the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Despite the optimism that persisted in September 2010 with the re-launching of the first direct talks since the 2007 Annapolis Conference, those negotiations quickly broke off—resulting in the present stasis.
The Argentine government officially recognized Palestine as a free and independent state, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman said on Monday. In a letter to the president of the National Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner recognized Palestine’s borders as they were defined in 1967, before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza during the Arab-Israeli War. Argentina’s announcement follows a similar statement of recognition made by Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Relations last Friday.
Only months after Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed over settlement issues, Argentina and Brazil’s statements were drew both praise and condemnation. The Palestine Liberation Organization said the support from the South American powers sends a message of respect for international law and against colonialism. The Israel government, on the other hand, condemned the recognition of Palestine as deceiving, lamentable and counterproductive to peace negotiations.
Several Middle Eastern nations have been working to build stronger diplomatic ties with Latin America. Perhaps the best example is the relationship between Brazil and Iran which is centered on energy cooperation. Uruguay, a sovereign member of Mercosur along with Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, has publicly announced its plans to recognize Palestine in early 2011. However, Israel remains a key partner for Latin America, and is the first non-Latin American nation to sign a free-trade agreement with Mercosur.