No land is an Island

Regional Integration

Colombia will need to balance its desire to form new global trade and military relationships with its regional commitments in Latin and South America.

In an uncertain global climate, regional integration will be increasingly important for Colombia as it looks to maintain and develop its standing as one of Latin America’s leading countries. A member of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Andean Community (CAN), and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Colombia is intimately acquainted with the challenges and rewards that come with regional integration.

Founded in 1969, the Andean Community is one of the oldest regional communities in Latin America. It is a trade bloc composed of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru; Venezuela withdrew its membership in 2006. CAN is an intergovernmental agency focused on economic policy, trade, and a shared agenda in the goal of linking the member countries and forming unified policies that benefit all countries. Rich in natural and economic resources, CAN has a total population of over 100 million, a combined GDP of over USD580 billion, and is home to 20% of the planet’s biodiversity. The Andean community’s governing body is the Andean Parliament, which consists of four elected representatives from each country.

The Andean Community’s key focus recently has been on trade deals and economic integration. The community established the Andean Free Trade Area (AFTA) in 1993, which took landmark steps towards the elimination of customs tariffs. Additional efforts toward economic integration followed in recent years, with the creation of a common market in 2004 and the creation of common tariff policies shortly thereafter. Individual countries retain the right to make specific trade deals that are in their best interests, but emphasis is made on linking decisions to create a fair and equal market. Moreover, the community allows for free movement of workers within countries with the Andean Migration Card established in 2007.

Colombia has long been at the forefront of CAN’s operations and taken an active in role in the formation of policy, but recent trade deals with the EU have led to tensions within CAN. In 2012, the EU signed a comprehensive trade agreement with Colombia and Peru, with Ecuador added to the agreement in 2014. At the beginning of original negotiations with the EU, Ecuador and Bolivia expressed concerns that the proposed agreement was too favorable to the EU and included provisions that would be difficult for the smaller countries to meet. As a stable and prosperous country with well-developed national industries, Colombia and Peru can make agreements that would be onerous for Ecuadorian and Bolivian national industries.

Though Ecuador joined in 2014, Bolivia remains a holdout and, as a result, is unable to export products to the European market. This is a continuing source of tension within CAN. Moving forward, Colombia will need to take care to balance the needs of member countries’ different development levels as they look to form new regional trade agreements with the Asian market.

UNASUR is a more recent regional organization with similar aims. With membership consisting of every independent South American nation, UNASUR was formed in 2011 as the result of years of work to further regional integration. UNASUR’s primary actions are economic development efforts through the Bank of the South, its credit institution. The group also coordinates on border controls, infrastructure, and defense policy. This last topic has been a point of contention for Colombia, which originally refused to join UNASUR’s defense council because of its preexisting military ties with the US. Although it resolved those issues and joined the organization, the country’s ties with the US military continue to generate tension within the regional organization. Colombia announced in December 2016 preliminary talks with NATO in the hopes of becoming a full member, drawing the ire of regional leaders who view this as a violation of the declaration of Latin America as a peaceful zone.

Colombia’s entry into NATO is still very much in the future, but as with its economic policy, the nation appears to be reaching a crossroads between its global ambitions and regional responsibilities. The challenge will be to integrate itself into the global economy, provide peace and stability, and balance its needs with the needs and responsibilities of its fellow members in regional organizations. After decades of work that have gone into increased regional integration, the best move will likely involve compromise to maintain good relationships with its neighbors. Charity begins at home, as the saying goes, and Colombia knows well enough that it stands to benefit from a strong and unified Latin America.

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