The Andean Community: A South American Union?

The Andean Community, a free trade area comprising Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, stated on August 29th, 2022 that they would like states such as Venezuela, Chile, and Argentina to join the bloc, according to Reuters. The presidents of the member states were in Lima in order to formally pass the presidency of the Andean Community from Ecuador to Peru.

The Andean Community was founded in 1969, after the Cartagena Agreement was signed, and was originally known as the Andean Pact. The trade bloc was created with the intention of eventually creating a customs union between its member states in a style similar to that of the European Union. Founding members were Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Chile withdrew in 1976 amidst the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, while Venezuela joined in 1973 but later withdrew in 2006.

The current associated members via a cooperation agreement with the Southern Common Market – more commonly known as ‘Mercosur’ – which currently acts as a customs union for its member states, are Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The cooperation agreement was signed in 2004. The eventual goal of both organizations, stated in a joint letter of intention for future negotiations after signing the cooperation agreement, is to create a ‘Union of South American Nations’ in the style of the European Union in Europe.

In reference to bloc expansion, Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who was newly elected into his position this past month, said on August 29th that “If we manage to integrate Chile, Venezuela, and Argentina…I think this would significantly change things and our voice would be heard much more clearly on the world stage,” according to Reuters. Peruvian President Pedro Castillo also voiced support for expansion saying that “I would like to express the importance it would have for the Andean community, and the benefits for its members, to have Chile and Venezuela rejoin”. He also went on to express interest in Argentina joining as well.

The stance towards more expansive cooperation comes as left-wing governments have come to power in many parts of South America, and in the bloc’s membership – Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia have all elected left-wing governments in recent years. Ecuador, under the leadership of Guillermo Lasso, is the odd one out of the bloc with a right-wing stance. Former member state Chile has also elected a left-wing government in recent years.

Besides the potential expansion of the bloc, member states have also deepened their cooperation via the bloc in recent years, with 3 such measures coming into effect in 2021 including signing a new freedom of movement statue in August of 2021, according to Near Shores Americas; launching a shared database for intellectual property in the bloc in October of the same year; and eliminating mobile roaming charges around the bloc in November. All are reminiscent of moves made by the European Union, reflecting the stated aims of the Andean Community.

Indeed, the potential expansion of the bloc, and the increased cooperation among member states and amongst associate states as well, is reason for celebration. The European Union (EU) is often credited with the sharp reduction of conflict in Europe in the aftermath of World War II, and it deserves much of it, given its phenomenal success. Since the founding of the European Union in 1957 after the Treaty of Rome created the European Economic Community, no European Union state has gone to war with another state in the European Union, despite the fact that in the 100 years prior to 1957, France and Germany alone went to war with each other no less than 3 times. While conflict on the European continent has not been completely curbed, it is evident that European Union expansionism has been a staggering success in terms of promoting economic cooperation, peace, and improved diplomatic relations around the region.

Increased regional and global cooperation among states, whether economic or political, is in almost every case a net benefit for the continued peace and security of the region and world at large. Increased interactions among nations on economic and political lines leads to increased familiarity and empathy, and less misunderstandings that can breed conflict. A so-called ‘South American Union’, would therefore represent a huge step in promoting long-lasting peace and prosperity, not just in South America but across the globe. Not only would it almost certainly increase the economic prospects of all states involved – given the success of customs unions and other economic agreements across the world, as seen with the Andean Community, for example – but interdependence would also have a strong correlation with peace. States that communicate regularly on economic lines, whose citizens and businesses depend on each other and who can move freely between countries, are more familiar with each other and are thus much less inclined both to engage in conflict or to believe propaganda from their governments about the need for conflict should one arise. In short, in the modern era, states with strong economic and cultural ties very rarely engage in armed conflict.

In conclusion, whether it be by expanding the Andean Community, or creating a new economic cooperation organization for South America altogether, a ‘South American Union’ would be an important step for ensuring the continued peace and stability of the region at large. Economic cooperation quite often leads to increased political cooperation and intermixing between residents of different countries on a day-to-day basis helps promote cultural competency and an increased empathy towards people that without personal interaction might be more easily be stereotyped as the “other”. Peace is not just the absence of conflict, it is something that must be constantly worked towards and maintained, and economic cooperation is often a cornerstone of such efforts.