The 12-nation UNASUR meets to discuss common issuesImage: picture alliance / dpa
August 10, 2009
The summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in Quito, Ecuador brought together the heads of state of the 12-member bloc to discuss the economic crisis, regional security and other common issues.
UNASUR was set up in 2008, bringing together Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela in a new union after its predecessor, the South American Community of Nations (CSN), became defunct in 2007.
UNASUR was launched to promote integration among South American countries and as such has a number of initiatives at its heart which intend to consolidate trade, security and infrastructure policies across its member states.
Among many of the initiatives set up at its creation, UNASUR aims to create a single market to eliminate the fees for non-sensitive products by 2014 and for sensitive products(i.e., beef, dairy) by 2019.
UNASUR is also pursuing an initiative for Infrastructure Integration of South America (IIRSA), including the construction of the Inter-oceanic highway to link the Pacific coast countries to allow better connections with Bolivia, Argentina, Peru and Brazil.
The presidency of UNASUR rotates on an annual basis, and is currently held by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. The presidency will be handed to Ecuador during the summit held in its capital.
The outcomes of the 2009 UNASUR summit are likely to have a wider significance outside of South America, with the European Union and Germany in particular interested in the bloc's discussions. As well as developments in trade relations, Germany will be looking at the increased collaboration within UNASUR with a view to possible effects this may have on its bilateral relations.
Germany's interests feature heavily on trade
Out of the 12 UNASUR countries, Germany is closest, in terms of trade and political dialogue, with Brazil. Brazil is Germany's main trade partner in the UNASUR, with seven percent of Brazilian imports coming from Germany, making it Brazil's main trading partner in the EU, while five percent of Brazilian exports come to Germany, second only to the Netherlands within the EU.
"Brazil is Germany's main partner within this country-group," Claudia Zilla, a Latin America expert with the Americas research division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), told Deutsche Welle. "Germany imports iron ore, auto parts, machinery, coffee, soy, animal feed, chemical products, oil, paper pulp, meat and metals from Brazil. Brazil imports machinery, chemical products, auto parts, electro technology, and medicine from Germany."
Zilla explained that, while trade - specifically with Brazil - is an important part of Germany's involvement in South America, it is far from being its only commitment. Berlin sees opportunities to forge partnerships on a number of global issues with South American governments within UNASUR.
In terms of international development cooperation with South America, Germany's main partners in bilateral programs are Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, and particularly Bolivia.
Partnerships pursued; opportunities missed
"Besides investment and trade, Germany is interested in global governance," Zilla said. "In some policy areas like environment and energy, South American countries have high potential to become partners in global cooperation. Germany and South America share important values like multilateralism and peaceful conflict resolution. But this does not mean both parts exploit these opportunities. There is a lack of sustainable engagement and strategic coordination between both sides on an international level.
"Democratic values are always an important component of Germany's partnership programs, of political dialogue and international economic cooperation," she added. "But it does not mean that the intensity of Germany's relationship with South American countries goes hand in hand with their democratic quality."
"On the one hand, some cooperation with less democratic countries can be a valuable contribution to deeper democratization. On the other hand, Latin American democracies are not frozen political systems, but dynamic ones. This makes things tough at times, as it is not easy to constantly adapt foreign relations to the changes in each country," she said.
While common policies on tackling the effects of the global financial crisis and issues of trade and security are the main topics for the 2009 meeting, the summit is likely to be overshadowed by the row simmering between a number of UNASUR's members over Colombia's plans to allow the United States use of seven military bases in its territory.
The official reason given for the US approach by Alvaro Uribe's government is the fight against drug trafficking, which fuels the activities of leftist Colombian rebels that have been fighting the state for more than 40 years.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a long-time antagonist of Uribe, has voiced strong opposition to Colombia's plans, and moved to freeze ties with Bogota as well as recalling the Venezuelan ambassador. He considers the narcotics interdiction a pretense, and has accused the US of seeking to establish Colombia as a "Yankee" platform for attacks on other countries in Latin America.
Berlin unlikely to comment on US base plan for Colombia
Germany has a low-level relationship with Venezuela and as such is highly unlikely to get involved in any spat over US influence in Colombia. Venezuela's trade dealings are focused on the United States while Chavez's foreign policy has a strong south-south-dimension, oriented toward his own region or toward non-EU countries like Iran and Russia.
"I cannot imagine that Germany would see anything wrong with (Colombia's plan). The US has had its own military base in Manta for a long time," said Zilla. "Now the US is looking for alternatives after Ecuador decided not to renew the lease on the base, it makes sense that (Colombian President Alvaro) Uribe is willing to let the US use Colombian bases."
As is often the case, Chavez is the most outspoken critic of US plans in Latin America, but other leaders around the region have expressed reservations too after Uribe toured seven South American countries to explain his plans last week.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva demanded formal guarantees that the planned deal between Bogota and Washington would not allow the use of Colombian bases to launch actions on other countries in the region.
"It is essential to grant some kind of formal guarantee, a legal guarantee, that possible (US military) operations will happen strictly within Colombian territory," Brazilian presidential spokesman Marcelo Baumbach stressed last Friday.
"There is a suggestion for there to be greater transparency," Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim had said earlier.
According to Amorim, Lula hopes all doubts can be dispelled "calmly, based on technical considerations" at the UNASUR summit. Lula stressed that he favors "bilateral and multilateral cooperation between South American nations to combat drug trafficking, without external interferences."