Looking Back on 2012: Regional Integration in Latin America

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A man walks past a banner reading 'Capital of integration' in Caracas (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

A man walks past a banner reading 'Capital of integration' in Caracas (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

In 2012 a big theme for Latintelligence was regional integration. A look at the past two hundred years of integration through today can be found here.

These posts look at Latin American countries trading and investing more closely with each other, and this one analyzes U.S.-Mexico integration in particular. Some of the biggest integration initiatives have concentrated on infrastructure: transnational roads and energy projects to facilitate the movement of goods and to connect electricity matrixes. Others efforts have been focused on trade; most notably NAFTA and Mercosur. But despite all of the efforts, The Economist shows that Latin America’s intra-regional trade at just over 20 percent of all exports, much lower than the EU’s 70 percent, or Asia’s and North America’s 50 percent.

Integration in Latin America’s governance has also gained attention in recent years, which I address in this blog post. The OAS’s regional influence has languished, challenged by the creation of the Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR, and the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America, or ALBA (though not yet at least by the nascent Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC). Many dismiss these numerous bodies as merely talk shops, but their response to regional crises have helped keep the conflicts short and relatively violence free.

Perhaps the most important, if overlooked, integration in the region has been through its citizens. Through vacations, study abroad, work, and intraregional immigration, Latin Americans are increasingly binding their countries, communities, and economies together. And the face of this moving group is also shifting. While once dominated by low skilled laborers seeking better opportunities, I note here that at least half of today’s migrants to Chile, Mexico, and Panama have twelve or more years of schooling. Internet usage has also broken down barriers between countries, as 129 million Latin Americans tweet at one another, post videos on YouTube, and interact with their neighbors on Facebook.

And of course one of the most important stories for the United States has been the arrival of millions of Mexicans immigrants to U.S. cities and towns. Some have questioned whether these immigrants are integrating into mainstream American culture as quickly as previous waves from Europe. But in this post on Mexican assimilation rates for indicators such as English language proficiency and naturalization numbers, it’s evident that this newest group is on pace with their predecessors.

Going forward, Latin American integration will remain important. The development and deepening of regional supply chains is one of the best ways to boost Latin America’s global competitiveness. And for Mexico, Peru, and Chile in particular, the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a free trade agreement with the United States, Canada and six Asian economies—would, if passed, bring these nations closer together than ever before.

Published in conjunction with Latin America’s Moment at the Council on Foreign Relations